A/N: EDIT: Bloody hell this story is getting flames.
I don't understand why, I really don't, I just wanted to make people happy...
Working a double shift today, so I wanted to get this out for you guys and girls. Fair warning, if you don't know much about RWBY you might be a little confused...
Dear god, I finally did it.
Well, hopefully I won't get murdered for this.
Yes, the title is a PUN and I regret nothing. Har-har-har.
Updates for this story will be bi-weekly, depending on the reception it receives.
I'll say it plain; if folks don't like or review it...well, that'd be a shame, but I won't write a story people dislike. Alrighty then, I don't think anyone has written this particular idea before, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. It took me awhile to get this idea off the ground, but here we are. Whatever could I be referring to, you ask?
By all means...
...read on and see for yourself~!
Fair warning, I'm still very much a rookie when it comes to RWBY so feel free to correct me if I've made any mistakes. I've only made it up to season six thus far and am watching the rest as we speak. I'm also taking a more risky venture here, in that I'm not afraid to kill off characters. That's right. There will be deaths. So brace yourselves now. Furthermore, this Naruto is in his prime, albeit a bit weakened by near-exhaustion. With NONE of his powers taken away.
None of that Boruto baloney here.
That's right, we're talking Final!Naruto, with both arms intact, and the Sage's power, fresh from the Valley of the End. Personality-wise, he's nearly the same, with some minor tweaks. Now, before anyone gets angry or starts yelling, hear me out. He's not godlike by any means or measure mind you; he can be deceived, tricked, even defeated if his enemies play their cards right and use strategy. But trying to fight a true jinchuuriki-even a tired one-in a straight up fight without proper preparation...ohohoho...well. Lets see how well that goes, eh?
And with that, I proudly present Remnants of a Shinobi.
The tile is a hint towards...something.
Hope you enjoy this~!
"An acceptable loss. Otherwise known as acceptable damage, is a military euphemism used to indicate minor casualties or destruction inflicted by the enemy. In other words, a victory that comes at a tolerable cost to your being or the soldiers under your command, albeit a cost nonetheless. After all I've been through today...after everything we went through to win...
It only cost me my dignity. My pride. My word.
...yeah. I'd call those acceptable losses."
The Fox and the Maiden
What do you know of evil?
Insidious, isn't it? We all carry that tiny piece of darkness deep inside us; its our choice to smother it, or give it fuel. No one simply turns overnight. Its far more subtle than that. A whisper here, a lie there, a bit of unkindness towards your friend. You tell yourself that you're in the right, that you aren't doing anything wrong. They deserve. You're taking what's rightfully yours. Dozens upon dozens of small acts that build and build and BUILD over time, until you wake up one morning and discover you no longer recognize your own reflection. Now the face staring back at you in the mirror is that of a stranger, the kindness in your eyes a hollow shell hiding something hideous. Somewhere along the way you sold your soul for power and before you know it you're alone, gone down a dark road to no return.
Was that how it was for my friend, I wonder?
Were we blind? Did we fail to notice it?
What did we do wrong?
All my life, I've tried to keep myself from going down the same path. I've fought tooth and nail against whatever I deemed to be wrong injustice wherever I found it, from petty acts of spite, to crimes of the vilest order, even overarching ambitions to consume the whole of creation as we know it. I've just about seen it all. My eyes have stared down powers that would make most men weep; my hands have grappled with ninja, demons, immortals, even the gods themselves. All the while holding true to what I believed was right. I said compassion was not a weakness, nor kindness a sin.
And I can say, without a doubt, that I was an idiot.
Was I afraid? Of course I was. In the beginning I wanted nothing more than to run. To turn my back on everyone and everything, to run as far as my legs would carry me. But I couldn't. I wouldn't. I learned to stand my ground, to fight. Because something deep inside me said this was wrong. Someone had to do something. Someone had to take a stand. I trusted my heart and followed my emotions where they led me. Sentiment is the very foundation of our being after all, for without it, without that spark of humanity, what are we?
Little more than mindless beasts tearing one another apart.
Emotions define us, you see. They strengthen us. Weaken us. Drive us forward. Hold us back. Emotions can burn. Heal. Hurt. Some master their emotions, steel themselves and fight for what they believe is right. A misguided few fill their hearts with malice in their lust for power, and everything around them goes up in flames. Hope becomes hate. Joy twists itself into wrath. And love...love turns to bitter, bitter envy. And yet still they seek more. Always more. Its never enough for them. They always. Need. More.
What's that old saying again? Everybody wants to the rule the world.
No matter the time, no matter the place, there will never be a shortage of shortsighted sycophants who seek to use others for their own gain. Those who crave power solely for power's sake. I should know. I fought more than my fair share. Orochimaru, Madara, Kaguya. Traitors, puppeteers, monsters all. They were fiends. But the worst among them...would be me.
Because I believed.
Because I was a naive boy.
Because I thought good would triumph.
After all he'd said, all he'd done, all he swore he would continue to do, I still tried to save my friend. To bring Sasuke back from the darkness. I thought I could. I should've killed him. But I didn't. That's who I was. We are who we choose to be, not who people think we are. I chose to help Sasuke at the time; even if he didn't want to help himself. In the end, when Kaguya was all but sealed and the battle was done, I offered him my hand. I'd chased him back to the Valley of the End, still thinking of him as my friend, still hoping-believing!-that I could save him from himself. And how did the great Sasuke Uchiha repay my kindness?
He ran me through with his sword.
There's nothing quite like the cold feel of steel in your gut to shatter your beliefs. Your world. You spend so long living your life by a single guiding light, and when someone snuffs it out...well. I never saw it coming; my eyes were too blind to see the truth in front of me until it was too late. Until that moment, I thought it would all turn out somehow, even if he killed me. Even if I died fighting him. I was wrong. The moment I realized he actually meant to kill me, to keep killing everyone afterwards...
At first all I could do was wonder. Why? Where had I gone wrong? How had I failed to reach him? Perhaps he was already lost by the time I found him, utterly consumed by insanity. Maybe he'd gone mad as he bathed in the blood of his enemies. Who could say? Regardless, it didn't change the obvious. The Sasuke I knew was dead. All that remained was a mad dog to be put down.
...something broke deep inside of me.
I remember grabbing at the blade, feeling it slice deep into my palms. The searing agony when he inevitably ripped his weapon free and left me to bleed out. I wasn't sure what he said to me after that. His words turned to an endless animal bleat in my head. Something about vengeance? He said he would make everyone and everything pay for what they did to the Uchiha clan-to his brother-and that he would start with me. I couldn't hear the rest. I didn't care. Somehow, the sting of betrayal made it all the worse, the realization that, because of me, a monster would be unleashed upon the world. He was going to kill me. I didn't want to die. Deep down, I was afraid, and that fear got the better of me.
That's how it starts you know; the fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men...cruel.
Guts gripping in the dark, I managed to rally Kurama and climb to my feet; somehow we fought back. If this wasn't my friend, if this stranger wearing Sasuke's face would sooner see the world burnt to rose red cinders and laugh among the ashes...then I had no reason to restrain myself. This wasn't my friend. This was a threat to humanity as we knew it. And so we fought. Not for justice, not for glory, just two men trying to kill each other. One for hate, the other out of fear.
I...can't remember much of what happened afterwards.
In our final battle, we rent the world asunder around us, tore open a hole in space and time, and tumbled through. I fell one way. He fell another. I don't know where he wound up and I don't care. I hope he dies from his wounds. Spirits, I hope it hurts. He's dead to me. If I see him again...bah, who am I kidding? Hell, I don't know where I am these days. Feels like I've been falling forever, tumbling through the black as my strength slowly bleeds back into my body. Unable to see. Unable to hear. I was so close. Just a little more. I just needed time. Just a little more time...
Now I see a light.
Finally! Took long enough...
"Falling, falling, falllllliiiiiiing~!"
With a terrified yelp, the tattered body of a young man crashed through the void and plummeted to the earth like a falling star. No one heard him. The stormy sky snatched up his screams and dashed his hopes to dust as he shot toward an ignoble end, a stream of golden flames trailing in his fiery wake. For all his strength-all his power-and chakra, in his current state he found himself just as powerless against gravity as any man, moreso the momentum behind it. Arms sailing, limbs flailing, Naruto Uzumaki couldn't do anything more than fall to his doom.
And as he fell, he saw.
A whole new world lay sprawled out below him in all its rustic glory; this humble countryside with beautiful green pastures and a worn road leading out of a wooded forest. For a fleeting flicker of a second he thought he glimpsed someone down there on the path below, a distant speck of color taking on the form of a cloaked figure. Might they have paused to look up at him as he barreled across the horizon? Did they see him? Did they hear him? He never really knew the answer to that question; hurtling at breakneck speeds as he was. If he didn't recover somewhere in the next ten seconds, he was going to be a red smear on that pretty brown ground.
"Stop, stop, stop!" Pinwheeling his limbs did nothing more than send him spinning in place, shouting in impotent fury. "I wanna get off this crazy riiiiiiide!"
It wasn't merely a matter of stopping; he had nothing to grab, nothing to grasp, nothing to hold onto. With each passing moment a messy end hurtled closer and closer, the ground even now rushing up to greet him as if he were some long lost friend. Try as he might, he couldn't think of a landing that didn't end with copious amounts of pain, or worse-
"Stop screaming and do something, you dolt!"
Thankfully, a familiar voice jerked the jinchuuriki back to reality before he could become intimate with the dirt. And with that, the seed of an idea planted itself in his mind. No, he couldn't stop himself from falling, not in this state. He was nearly out of chakra after that last battle, and Kurama alongside him. But he could control his fall. And those were trees he was falling toward.
The barest beginnings of a grin plucked at Naruto's whiskered cheeks. "Kurama! Arms!"
Deep within the recesses of his mind, the fox smirked. "About time you took charge. Brace yourself!"
Gritting his teeth, Naruto flung his arms outward just as a familiar golden glow engulfed him. Branches snapped and tore at his already ruined jack as he crashed into the treeline; all the while valiantly struggling to adjust, contain, then somehow control his rampaging momentum. At his peak it would've been a simple thing to use his remaining truth seeking orbs to simply levitate...if most of them hadn't been destroyed. As things stood he simply didn't have enough energy to recreate the damn things at the moment, much less with so many leaves smacking him in the face.
"This was a poor landing strategyyyyyyyyy!"
"Try to grab a branch or something!" came the vain counsel.
Naruto grunted. "What!" Smack. "Do you." Smack. "Think I'm doing?!" Smack! "This isn't working!"
Agony arched down the length of the exasperated blond's spine as he forced his arms back to his sides and briefly submitted to his fate. Gravity seemed intent on dragging him through every branch, twig and tree on the way down. It took more than a considerable effort on his part not to simply squeeze his eyes shut against the pressure and look away out of fear. Every fiber of his being was needed for what came next. Even the slightest lapse of concentration could spell disaster for him.
In a fit of pique the shinobi lashed out with a golden claw at the nearest bough that looked large enough to bear his weight; for his foolishness, he nearly wrenched his arms out of their sockets before raw velocity tore him free and sent him slamming through the trees again. But it slowed him. Just a sliver. This time, a grimmer grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. There it was. Progress. He could do this.
His second attempt yielded similar results to the first, albeit with less pain this time and more leaves.
Juxtaposed to the idea of dashing his skull in against another tree, Naruto tried again.
Contrary to the popular saying, the third time was not in fact the charm.
So he kept at it, seizing everything within reach, and each time, slowing himself that much more. It wasn't enough. For all his efforts, he couldn't even stick to a tree with his heels; merely attempting to do so threatened to break his legs. His tumble felt like an eternity, in reality, it barely lasted more than a minute...also not good for him.
"We're running out of forest!"
"I know!" he growled.
One final desperate grab finally brought Naruto the escape he so desperately sought from this hellish cycle; this time the next tree he grabbed didn't yield and he used the chance to swing himself up onto the nearest branch he could find. A wild whoop tore out of him as his battered back slammed against the battered oak, free at last. Alive, only moderately wounded before landing, and with all his important bits in one piece. He'd only demolished half a forest. Really, there was only one thing to say:
"Ha!" he crowed triumphantly, pumping a fist into the air," Nailed it!"
"Prat." Kurama shot back.
"Oh, shut up." despite his own aching body, Naruto managed to croak out a laugh. "You know you love me."
They bickered on and off for a few minutes more, neither willing to address the proverbial elephant in the room...erm, forest. They didn't know where they were. Or even when, at that. Their adventures had landed them in the past more than once before. Who could say where they'd wound up this time? This could be a new world, or an entirely different time period. Neither had any way of knowing the truth until faced with it. Now that their less than stellar landing lay firmly behind them-and around them-both man and tailed beast were loathe to broach the subject.
Naruto wasn't exactly keen on it, either.
His entire body protested even the most minute of movements; from his recently healed stomach to the countless scrapes and bruises he'd sustained during his fall down to his near chakra exhaustion. To say nothing of the mental wounds he'd sustained in battle. He'd panicked. Gone back on his creed. Broken his word, all to save himself. Here, in this moment, he wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and rest. He didn't want to dwell on his guilt or his failure, where he was, or what he was going to do now. He simply wanted to close his eyes, sleep, and bury the past in his dreams.
Fate had other plans.
"Don't just lie there, boy. You were brought here for a reason."
A lone blue eye creaked open. "Eh? What was that?"
Kurama grunted. "I didn't say anything. You alright there?"
...no." groaning, Naruto rolled over on the branch. "Did you hear that?" he asked.
"What, the size of your ego swelling?"
"I'm serious." he sat up, craning his neck. "I just heard something."
"Probably a storm or something." Kurama barely twitched an ear in the seal. "What does it matter?"
As he stretched out his senses, sure enough, the distant sound of rolling thunder rumbled through the forest canopy to rattle their ears. Not a moment later, the rattle of an explosion raced after, hot on its heels. Naruto frowned. Storms didn't sound like that. Then what did? Curiosity's touch spurred him upright despite his wounds and still-tender muscles and reluctantly, he rose. Something told him to act. Move. Rise. As much as he might want to pay it no heed, he just couldn't ignore that noise. It set his senses on edge, filling him with dread.
"Its probably nothing." the old fox said as his host clamored down the tree. "And if it is something, its certainly none of our business."
"Even so, I want to see." Naruto countered as he slid to a halt. "Just to be sure."
Feeling jittery, he left a pair of clones behind at the base of the tree with strict instructions to amass as much natural energy as they could. If it came to a fight, he'd be able to use whatever they gathered without straining his already depleted reserves. Of course, the fox had a remark for that too, in all his caustic wit.
"Oho? Strategy? From you? That Uchiha really rattled you, didn't he? Now you're thinking like a shinobi."
"Stop it, Kurama." A lone muscle jumped in the blond's jaw as he set out. "I mean it. Don't go there."
"Go where?" came the retort, "You're jumping at shadows now, Naruto."
"Am I?" he shot back. "You don't know if he's dead yet."
"You took his arm off. He's gone. Accept it."
"Nothing would make me happier."
They both knew it was a lie.
As they drew closer to the source of the noise, the unearthly din-what could that noise be?-began to steadily intensity, growing louder and louder with each successive step. By the time Naruto broke free from the forest and hit the dirt road they'd both glimpsed from afar before, he could barely hear himself think. Something lit up the horizon in the distance now, bringing with it strange sounds he wasn't accustomed to. His feet had long since betrayed him by then and quickened from a walk into a jog, racing down the path until he finally found the source...was not what he expected at all.
What he saw there turned his blood to ice; if only because he hadn't expected to run right into...this.
A young woman lay sprawled on the ground only yards away from them, wasted and gasping for air, an arrow lodged in her back. As he looked on in quiet horror, a trio of shadowy figures advanced upon her with weapons drawn. One of them resembled a young man. The other two, were most certainly women. As he looked on, two of them seized the exhausted girl by the shoulders and hauled her upright, while the third donned something that looked like a pallid white glove.
He didn't like the look of that.
Even at this range Naruto found couldn't quite comprehend them properly; their faces and bodies almost seemed blurred as he hurtled closer. Like static over a grainy image. Something was actively interfering with his vision now, preventing him from fully discerning their identities. One of them looked up, and he thought he saw their posture tense as they noticed him. He couldn't be sure. Whatever the cause, the blur stabbed at his eyes yet again, this time bringing with it a lurch of pain.
"Blasted illusionist!" Kurama snarled in the back of his mind, drawing him back to the present with a lurch. "Is one of them a genjutsu specialist or something?!"
Naruto didn't hear him.
Because the girl was looking up. At him.
Impossibly, her eyes found his across the distance. "Please...help..."
That quiet, plaintive gasp tore away the very last scrap of his hesitation.
Then there was no more time for thought, just long enough to call upon his old friend.
As ever, the fox responded readily enough. "You and your bloody curiosity...bah! Fine! Go!"
A trickle of golden chakra surged through Naruto's veins like warm honey even as he spoke, reinforcing his weakened form to some semblance of his full might. It would have to be enough. Instinct took the wheel and his body moved of its own accord, a lone kunai flying from his hand as he rocketed forwards into an inhuman leap. Even in his injured state, he hit his target without fail. Sure enough, the woman jerked back with a snarl as the honed knife slammed into her outstretched arm, interrupting whatever sordid ritual she was attempting before she could begin. Less than a yard away now, he heard her curse, and shouted her down with one of his own.
"Let go of her, you bastards!"
Then he slammed into them like a falling star.
In a single arc of vicious vermilion light, the weary shinobi came crashing down between the fair maiden and her captors; the sheer force of his landing kicked up a plume of dust, blinding all present. Nor did he stop there; he was still far from finished. Golden chakra arms burst from his back as he spun, swinging back with an ominous creak to form a towering hand to loom over them all. One that came came crashing down against the earth in a hurricane of molten motion.
It was a wild strike all things considered; little more than a delaying tactic meant to drive the girl's tormentor's back and gain some distance. He didn't expect it to work quite so well. Twin fists crashed down against the earth, splintering the soil like so much broken glass. Instead of startling them as he'd intended, his attack physically drove the pursuing trio back, sending two of the three tumbling away while the third leaped away to safety. In that instant, whatever static had fallen over his vision fell away, replaced by clear, glorious clarity. Without thinking he laid a hand on the girl's back and sent what-he hoped-was a healing pulse of chakra into her back.
Sure enough familiar mark on his palm stared back at him from her ruined shoulders, bringing with it a silent pang of relief.
And with that, he saw.
Baffled blue eyes took in the scene before him as well as the unlikely trio arrayed against him; a silver-haired young man clad in burnt clothes astride a pair of metal legs-what the hell?!-a girl with striking green hair, red eyes, and dark skin matched by faded leathers, and finally a dangerous-looking woman bearing stunning black hair and an eerie gaze, her body all but wrapped up in a red dress. If this most unlikely trio held one thing in common; it was that each looked just as confused as he felt. Had he really hit the earth that hard? He hadn't meant to. Straightening up only made things worse. Green-hair reached for her weapons, and metal-legs over there looked about three seconds from lunging at him.
His reward for this selfless act?
The girl he'd "saved" yanked him backward.
"Seriously?!" he squawked. "This is the thanks I get...oh."
Incredulous, the shinobi turned to find himself face to face with a girl now kissed by the sun.
Held aloft by unseen forces, wreathed in lighting, her body sheathed in the elements, the storm itself.
Furious hazel eyes blazed down at him, set within a tanned face framed by a small frown and shoulder-length hair the color of autumn chestnuts. Clad in the tattered remains of what once resembled an off-white blouse with a brown vest, corset and pants, the young woman nevertheless still stood-hovered?-her ground in the face of the unknown. Her armor was another curious matter, from the gold bracer on her left arm, to matching bracelets on her right wrist. Whomever she was, she clearly like the color yellow as much as he did orange. Hells, she even wore a pair of tawny armored boots in that very color alongside a single golden pauldron atop her right shoulder! Not that he was focused on said shoulder; because those fiery orbs were now very much focused upon him.
"Um...hello there?" he offered, scratching the back of his head sheepishly as she gazed down at him from on high. "Look, I'm sorry I interrupted...whatever this, but you were hurt and...
"Uh, kid?" Kurama chimed in. "Might wanna look again."
In response, the young maiden silently dropped a notched arrow at his feet; the very projectile that had been lodged within her back a moment ago. When he looked back up at this strange warrior, he didn't even see any semblance of a wound, just a simple tear in the fabric of her blouse. Well. Apparently he'd given her enough time to heal or what-have-you...and as an individual who'd once regrown a lung, seeing that from the outside in was a little frightening all things considered. In hindsight, he wasn't sure what made him take the girl side; was it instinct? Concern? Some sixth sense? The sheer animosity he sensed from those three? Who could say? Regardless, he made his choice and stepped forward.
It changed everything.
"Right, okay." he flung up his hands, keenly aware of the girl's clenched fists at her sides. "You got better. I can see that. But, listen! I'm not with them! I swear! I'm on your side! I helped you, remember?!"
Rather than reply, the recovering maiden continued to glower at him, her lithe form held aloft by celestial winds. The world held its breath. Naruto didn't relish the idea of fighting four people at once; much less when he was running on fumes. He had enough chakra for a few feats, maybe the odd clone or two, but if it came to a prolonged fight...
When she finally nodded, he felt his shoulders slump in muted relief.
"Whew." A fresh smile bloomed on his lips as he wiped a bead of sweat from his bow. "Great! And here I thought this was going to be har-aargh?!"
He never had the chance to finish that sentence as a vicious kick slammed into his unprotected back to launch him forward. Rage turned his vision red and the shinobi lashed out in kind to swing the back of his fist at his opponent's face. Maddeningly, he found it to be the same metal-legged-bastard from before, taunting him now with that indefatigable grin. It should have been a clean hit. Even in his weakened state, he possessed more than enough brute force to knock someone out with a solid right hook...if he connected.
Instead his clenched knuckles swept through an illusion of hollow air.
This had to be a trick; there could be no other word for it as his fist slammed through another afterimage after the first, the smirking assassin inexplicably vanishing before his very eyes. By the time he realized what was happening said assailant had reappeared and slammed a kick against the back of his right knee, sending him stumbling once more. Tumbling to his feet, he retaliated in kind, only to meet open air for a third time. A blur of mottled black hurtled past his head as the assassin rang his skull like a bell.
Naruto sucked in a breath through his teeth. "That...hurt."
Inwardly however, his mind began to race.
'The hell? I know I hit him! Didn't I?'
"Its that blasted girl." This time a fresh surge of chakra accompanied Kurama's voice. "She's using an illusion of some sort. Leave her to me. Focus on nuts and bolts over there."
"But what about-
A torrent of flame sailed overhead as their unnamed ally shot past like a fiery comet, dragging the emerald-haired girl with her.
...I think she can handle herself, boy. Unless you'd rather get in the middle of that?"
"Nope." he decided after a moment's pause. "She's got this."
All the world became a blur as he closed with his opponent again; this time, not rushing in, careful to keep his guard up. He'd learned his lesson once already. When a roundhouse punt sailed towards his head, he didn't try to block it, choosing instead to let it sweep harmlessly past his ear. He was more than ready to return it. That barreling kick found itself intercepted by a golden arm and promptly returned tenfold as the whiskered warrior chambered one of his own into his opponent's face. Infuriatingly, his foe took the hit and rolled away, tumbling back to his feet like a graceful acrobat. Inwardly, he rolled his eyes. Great. This was going to be one of those battles. He would've been content to simply beat his opponent down in stoic silence, but of course his opponent had to chime in.
"This isn't your fight, friend."
"Feels like it." he growled back, taking on a stance. "And you're no friend of mine. Who are you? Why are doing this? What's this girl done to you?"
In the distance, the red-eyed girl screamed. His enemy seemed to take a vindictive pleasure in it.
The assassin scoffed and snapped a kick at his head again. "Did you really think I'd just tell you what we're up to?"
"You will if you want to stay conscious."
Slim shoulders rolled in a halfhearted shrug. "Have it your way. Remind me to lay some flowers on your grave."
"Gods, you really are insufferable."
Whomever he was, he was good. Very good. Those metal limbs hurt whenever the assassin landed a kick, block or no. But he'd seen better and fought worse. He'd sparred with Rock Lee and his eight gates. Fought down Madara in a contest of taijutsu and somehow lived to tell the tale. This assassin made for poor sport by comparison. Sure, he hit hard enough, but his primary method of attacking consisted of powerful kicks alongside the occasional odd punch. There was no substance to it. No form. Without the man's fiendish friend there to distract and distort his vision, Naruto soon found himself gaining the upper hand in due course. It was a hard fought battle, but soon enough, he gained the measure of his enemy. And he wasn't alone.
With a single mental command, he willed the pair of clones he'd created several minutes ago to disperse.
In an instant, the torrent of natural energy they'd gathered flooded his aching limbs.
Blue eyes blazed gold.
In hindsight, Mercury might've realized something was amiss; maybe he recognized his own inherent danger. The young man before him had come out of nowhere to disrupt their plans and despite his wounds, he seemed more than capable of holding himself in a fight. And now those eyes...the way they'd changed color...it set him on edge. A tiny spark if fear fanned itself to life in his chest as his opponent beckoned him forward, crooking four fingers toward him in a traditional come-hither gesture. His entire demeanor stood altered, just like his stance.
Just who the hell was this guy?
Railing against his fear, the assassin went back on the offensive, launching into a flurry of blows meant to drive the whiskered warrior's face in. He may as well have pounded his legs against a brick wall for all the good it did; none of them made contact. His opponent didn't budge; each strike found itself deflected or evaded with minimal effort, swept aside like a child's inept flailing. When he finally deigned to attack, Mercury never saw it coming. Tan hands snapped together in a singular motion and an open palmed slap collided with his face, sending the assassin staggering away. It brought back less than pleasant memories. Memories that made him slip, memories that left him open for the roundhouse that followed.
Half a heartbeat later, Mercury found himself sprawled out on his back. One punch.
He'd nearly gotten knocked out with a single punch, and it burned.
It was galling; being reminded of his powerlessness.
"What! Is! Going! On?! How are you doing this?!"
"Its called chakra, son. You wouldn't know."
Mercury rallied regardless. "Shut up!"
A sandal clad foot stomped down at his head, forcing the assassin to tumble back to his feet or risk further injury. His mad roll earned him an elbow to the back of the head for his troubles, a kick to the gut, doubled him over as twin hands took hold of his face and smashed it against a knee. A heel palm sent him reeling again, and finally, finally, he saw an opening. Of course Mercury took it. How could he not?
"Just drop dead you damn-
Shunting the bone-crunching heel aside as easily as one would a rebellious child, Naruto trapped the limb against his ribs and held it fast with his right arm. Mercury blanched when he saw the metal immediately begin to buckle beneath the strain. That...was mildly concerning. A human shouldn't be able to do that. A human definitely shouldn't be able to buckle his leg like that. Said confusion warped into further dread when a taut fist slapped into his throat. Air abandoned him, leaving him retching for breath. Reeling back in startled pain as much as surprise, he realized too late what was about to happen.
Naruto's fist snapped back.
"Clench your teeth, pretty boy!"
Say what you would about the blond's lack of tactics; he hit hard. Mercury never saw the punch, but he certainly felt it. His snapped back and his body went limp. Naruto didn't even deign to look back to make certain he was down for the count. Damn but it'd felt good to wipe the smile off that prick's face.
Unfortunately, a trio of curved arrows wedged themselves in his right arm as he turned to search for his original target. Lovely. The blakcette was up again and he had another wound to worry about. Naruto tore them free with a grunt and sure enough, he found the woman in the red dress sneering at him, her blades combined to form some sort of composite bow. Well. That was just dandy, wasn't it? Today was full of surprises.
"What is wrong with you people?!"
Part of him tensed when he presented his back to the girl to face his remaining adversaries, but the glowing maiden never struck him down. Something warm pressed against his shoulders; even then it took him a moment to realize the stranger had willingly moved to stand back to back with him. Instead a torrent of frozen leaves swirled forth to slash at their enemies.
"I'm still running on fumes here, kid." Kurama warned him again. "Neither of us have had a chance to recover. End this. Now."
"...got it. Shock and awe it is. Lets do this!"
He offered only one retort.
His old friend answered the call with sound and aplomb; bursting out of him like a great golden god with the howling fury of a thousand storms. At his full towering height, he barely felt his ally leap onto his back, but he snarled in triumph all the same. Floored by this sudden transformation, their remaining attackers didn't have time to retreat; the shockwave of his transformation did that for her.
"Go for the green girl." the old kitsune counseled. "Her illusions are dangerous enough."
Crimson eyes snapped downward.
Credit where it was due, Emerald tried to dodge. She really did.
But she just wasn't.
Realizing her peril too late, the green-haired girl nevertheless attempted to backpedal, even backflip out of the way. For all her speed and agility, she ultimately failed to evade Kurama's anger. A golden tail still snared her body and sent her spinning into the sky. Another seized her airborne body and slammed her down against the compacted earth with a vicious crunch.
"No!" someone cried out.
For a fleeting instant heNarutofelt a wrench of guilt; the poor girl would probably never walk again, if she survived at all. He knew the telltale crunch of bones anywhere.
That brief regretful pang vanished as a crystallized glass arrow slashed across his face. Irritation swatted all remnants of regret aside like an annoying gnat as he spun, sweeping all nine of his tails against the ground with blinding speed. As luck would have it, he also caught the boy with the metal legs just as he came to and sent him sprawling. The woman with dark hair proved more fortunate; she was father back and skipped away out of reach. But rather than attack again as he'd expected, she actually...hesitated. Only for the merest of moments, but that reluctance was there. Perhaps it was the sight of her fallen comrade that stilled her. Perhaps she feared meeting the same fate. Still, her hesitation suited him just fine; it gave his drained reserves a moment to replenish.
The desperation burned in her eyes, however, was all too real. "She's mine!"
Sheltered behind him, the brunette made a noise of less-than-pleasant disagreement.
Naruto couldn't help himself; he actually snorted at her response. "Don't think she agrees with you."
Still the woman continued to rail at him, heedless of her own peril. "Move, you damn brat! I swear, if you don't-
"You'll what?" Red eyes snapped down to her faltering form. "Kill me? I've died before. I got better. And if this your best...it ain't enough."
"Why protect her?" the blackette snapped another arrow at him, to no avail; he merely swayed out of the way. "This isn't your fight! You don't even know her!"
Cinder's words-though he knew not her name-sparked something in the whiskered warrior. An ember of anger. Pride. She was right. This wasn't his fight. By all rights there was no need for him to get involved. And yet, a thorn of fury pricked his heart and held him back. However much he might failed others, however cruel some might call him, he still couldn't bring himself to turn his back on someone in need.
"You're right about one thing." A lone finger jutted forward. "I don't need a reason to help someone. You, on the other hand...
"Overkill?" Kurama inquired with a grim grin.
Naruto raised his hands, palms splayed.
Black light burst before his outstretched fingertips and the glowing effigy of Kurama's skull burned brighter into existence, an unholy light coalescing at the end his gaping jaws. A spiraling sphere of condensed chakra, one that continued to swell and grow with each passing moment. Even in his exhausted state, it took but a moment to bring what remained of his power to bear upon the enraged woman. Large. Larger. Largest. Naruto held it a moment longer, allowing the arc of his chakra to watching the woman's eyes widen in growing horror. It would be so easy to simply let it go; to unleash hell and eradicate her utterly. He should. He'd be in the right to do so, surely. To kill someone.
Instead, he missed.
...damnit! I just can't do it!'
Rather than obliterate her where she stood, Naruto willfully jerked his head to the right at the last instant.
Averted by sheer force of will, the blast roared up into the sky like an arrow loosed from a bow; the sheer shockwave of which flattened everyone present. Streaking into the sky with a mournful howl, it continued to climb, higher and higher until at last it reached its zenith. All eyes tracked its movement, the battle briefly forgotten but this unheralded display. For a fleeting instant the tailed beast bomb hung in the heavens, defying the laws of nature and physics alike. Then without word or warning it burst, rendering the world went white with light; banishing even the clouds themselves from the sky.
In the aftermath, his opponent stumbled upright, eyes wide with disbelief.
"That's it, then." Kurama chided as his ethereal form began to fade. "I'm out of chakra. Try not to die while I recover."
Naruto relented with a wordless grunt as gravity sank its cruel claws into him; to his credit, he managed to land in a pointed crouch rather than fall on his face like a fool. Even then, the mere act of standing threatened to reopen his wounds and send him plummeting back into the black. He must've looked it too, because a spark of confidence glimmered back to life in the eyes of his adversary.
"Leave. Now." those two words rattled earth and sky alike. "Next time we won't miss."
It was a truth as much as a bluff; with his reserves still at an all time low, it was all he could do to breathe.
A wordless growl was Cinder's sole response, though he knew not her name. For all his bluster and bravado she appeared ready to strike solely out of spite; indeed, her burning gaze threatened to sear itself into his memory, such was its heat. No, that wasn't the word he was looking for. This was something more. Hunger. Yes, that one. Whatever this power was, this woman wanted it. She needed it. She craved it, with a single-minded drive that rivaled his own. In her eyes, her teammates didn't matter. They were merely means to an end. She saw only the power before her. Still, she'd be a fool to attack now, wouldn't she?
Much to his alarm the witch darted forward, poised to cut him down-
And the heavens answered in kind.
Naruto never heard the lightning; but he most certainly saw it. A bold bolt of white-and-gold snapped over his left shoulder with blinding, leaving skin tingling but otherwise as it arced past. Cinder wasn't so lucky. Caught in mid-leap, she had no time to escape. No strategy to save her, no brilliant plan to deliver her from harm. Time seemed to slow, all the colors of the world fading to grey. The assassin's eyes widened a fraction of an inch, her mouth forming a small, round "O" of surprise and muted horror. Then time reasserted itself with a vengeance and the acrid tang of burnt flesh filled the air.
Whomever she was, the Maiden didn't hesitate.
Wholly unprepared for this sudden assault, Cinder didn't even have the chance to defend herself; caught dead in the gut and forcefully flung away at impossible speed. Her body folded limply around the blast with a single tortured cry, struck the ground, rolled, then sprang back up. Faint sparks shimmered from her form, vanishing even as Naruto noticed them. A hand settled upon his shoulder and he risked a wary glance behind him; just in time to see the Maiden standing with her free hand hand stretched toward the sky. Furious hazel eyes focused upon the assassin, burning as though lit from within, her expression fixed into a single, wild emotion.
And so she spoke:
"You want this power so badly?! Then take it!" the words burst from her in an enraged sob, "TAKE IT ALL!"
No sooner had she done so than another towering bolt descended from the heavens above to strike the assassin down where she stood. This time, there could be no mistaking the agony behind her cry. Then another came. Another still. Another. Upon the fourth such blast her knees finally gave out, leaving her body to buckle to the floor in a heap. This time she did not rise again. Only steam wafted from her broken form, and she made no move beyond the odd twitch of her limbs. Despite himself, Naruto winced, his heart stirring in pity once more. That looked painful. She hadn't with simply been blasted; the poor woman been outright cooked from within. She might never recover from those burns without assistance.
He'd only just opened his mouth to congratulate his ally when a groan pierced the gloom.
"And they called this inexperienced?" someone grumbled under their breath. "What the hell...I didn't sign up for this..."
Much to their shared ire, the boy with the metal legs was still conscious. Standing, even. Though battered and bruised, his limbs still hadn't failed him. But rather than fight, this assassin only raised his hands in a gesture of submission. As he looked on, he sidled up to the green-haired girl and slung her over his right shoulder. With only a modicum of effort he performed a similar the same for his quivering companion, pulling her into his arms. Never did his gaze leave them, not a once, not even for a moment; he looked ready to bolt at the slightest provocation.
"Let's call it a draw this time, eh?" he kept his posture slack up for emphasis, despite cradling his wounded comrades. "Whaddya say?"
Naruto sucked in a breath that tasted of ash. "Give me one good reason not to cut you down here and now."
A silver brow rose.
"Because you've got nothing left in the tank there, blondie." slim shoulders rolled in a halfhearted shrug. "Guess I could say the same for your friend after her little tantrum. But don't feel bad," Even in defeat, he managed a bitter mocking smile. "We're pretty gassed ourselves. You two beat us pretty badly."
"Then surrender." The question didn't come from him, but the maiden watching over him. "If you do that, you'll be shown mercy."
...nah." that smile turned cruel as the young man shook his head. "Not gonna happen, Amber. We're not quiiite done with you just yet."
Naruto felt the young maiden stiffen behind him.
Before either could challenge him the silver-haired warrior urgently nudged one of his allies.
"Hey, Em." he coughed. "Wake up already. We need to get out of here."
"You're not going anywhere!"
He leveled one last baleful glance in their direction.
"Right. This isn't over, whiskers."
A muscle jumped in Naruto's jaw. "HEY!"
The world blurred-or perhaps he did?-and the trio vanished into the gloom even as he reached for them.
For a moment, he refused to lower his guard, nearly expecting some semblance of a sneak attack. Seconds passed. Then a minute. Finally, he just couldn't take it anymore. The tension drained out of him and his body sagged, fatigue and chakra-exhaustion at last extracting their long-awaited due. Now that the battle was won, he finally had an instant to breathe; to see just whom he'd saved. The same girl who'd saved him in turn. Amber, the assassin had called her. Huh. Not a bad name.
Wincing, he looked up at her.
Though her hair hung in disarray and her face was smudged with grit as well as dirt, the huntress favored him with a small, hesitant smile. Gods, she was beautiful. Her hand was probably the only thing holding him up right about now; if it wasn't for her staff, they both would've fallen over. She didn't question him. Didn't demand his identity nor to know his motives for aiding her. No, in the end, she only had one words for him. A single word of joy. Kindness. Humble gratitude-such a stark contrast to her earlier outburst, that it momentarily floored him-was all that greeted him.
Strong arms crushed around him all at once in a fierce embrace, drawing a startled grunt from the started blond as the brunette all but launched herself at him. He barely had the strength to sputter; such was his surprise at this sudden outburst. Had that been the end of it, he might've escaped with his conscience intact. Alas, the floodgates opened and much to his chagrin, Amber buried her head in his shoulder. She began babbling then, a stream of rapid endless words that he could barely recognized, much less decipher. He recognized one phrase however, all too well.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
The jinchuuriki wheezed out a pained breath.
"Jeez, what the hell did I get myself...into...this time?"
He never heard her response; in that moment his wounds caught up with him.
With a wordless laugh, he pitched forward and finally knew the blessed release of slumber.
A/N: Before anyone asks, yes, Crow arrived late this time around.
Don't worry, we'll see the rest of the RWBY cast soon enough. Not to mention Winter next chapter. Once again, this chapter takes place two years before the start of volume one, so I'll leave it to you dear reader, to vote for the pairing. I've got three in mind, but...well. That's up to you.
Yup. I just did that.
Always felt like Amber got the short end of the stick.
And just like that, with her survival, we've changed the game...haven't we?
The pairing, at present, is very much up in the air and left to you the reader, to vote on.
Emerald's illusions are pretty much useless against a jinchuuriki; Kurama can merely disrupt anything she throws at him.
In this timeline Cinder failed to get her hands on the Fall Maiden powers, which in turn, opens a LOT of doors and closes plenty of others. I have a plan for this story well in hand-already written the two separate drafts to account for pairings, harem or otherwise-and will adjust it accordingly as I work my way through the seasons. But don't expect Naruto to solve every problem. While he might not be as dense in this story, he's not the have-all-be-all either. Where's the fun in having an instant fix to everything?
So in the Immortal Words of Atlas...
...Review, Would You Kindly?
And enjoy the previews~!
Amber clutched at his hand.
...please. Don't go."
"No thanks, Ice Queen."
To her credit, Winter only blinked.
...I'm sorry, what did you just call me?"
Ozpin adjusted his glasses.
"Now then, let me see if I have the right of this. You say you fell...from the sky?"
Naruto facepalmed with a groand. "See, when you say it like that, it makes me sound crazy."
Something ancient and unknowable gleamed in the headmaster's eyes. "On the contrary. I believe you to be quite sane."
They always underestimate the fool.
That is their weakness, you see. Their fault. Their folly.
Everyone overlooks the jester...that may well be your greatest strength."
"Me? A Huntsman? Doesn't really sound like my thing."
"I'm not asking you to be a damn huntsman." Qrow took another wig of his flask. "I'm asking you to look after her."
...who? Amber? She can look after herself." confusion scrawled across the younger man's face. "Besides, she'll be fine without me-hey?!"
His words warped into a grunt as the huntsman's hand shot out and seized him by the collar; in the next instant he found himself rammed against the nearest wall.
"What are you, dense as a brick? No. She won't. Whoever did this wanted one thing from her." A stern finger jabbed him in the forehead. "Something you don't know about. They're not stupid. They're not going to stop, and she's NOT going to be alright. You hear me?" the words escaped him in a snarl. "They're gonna try again. And again and AGAIN until they get what they want. She might not be so lucky next time. So, unless you expect someone else to fall out of the sky and help her the next time she's in trouble...
With a grunt, he released him.
...man up and take responsibility for your actions!"
The girl tilted his head.
Naruto groaned. "You...don't talk, do you?"
An emphatic shake of said head answered his question.
"So what do I call you?"
A sign snapped up.