A Sage's Mission

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"Speaking"

"Thinking/ conversation with Tailed beast/Sacred Gear within the mind, Scape."

"Tailed Beast/Sacred gear/Dragon speaking."


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Chapter 20: Price of Betrayal

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Back at Urakyoto, after coming back for her teammate, Kuroka and Hinata held a heavy heart. They saved those who could be saved, and it was few a most. Less than half were found, men, women, and children. But the list provided by the Land of Iron, of those who've been taken...there are many missing family members. Children without mothers, mothers without sons and daughters, and fathers without their families.

Medical Ninja and Youkai doctors set up a field hospital at Urakyoto. The villagers were quickly seen to and would be transferred to the Shinobi world soon enough.

The field hospital was also for the injured from the battle still raging on. Those who suffered grievous injuries and needed to be evacuated. But there are only so many Youkai skilled enough to enter and leave the Underworld without the Devil's detection. And only so many Medical Ninja are on hand to be deployed in the field.

Not everyone could be evacuated, and not everyone could be seen to. A grim reality of war, even if only a prelude to what the Khaos Brigade aims to start.

"Is that everyone, Hinata?" A Shinobi Doctor asked the distracted Hinata, who found it hard to look away from the sight before her.

"Yes. There were no other Chakra signatures in the castle to find. I fear the others...I fear they are no longer with us." Hinata wanted to check one more time, but she knows that's a futile endeavour.

"You got them out, and that's what matters. There wasn't anything else you could've done."

"Thank you, Sakura."

Sakura Haruno is a fair-skinned young lady with green eyes, donning the purple Strength of a Hundred Seal mark on her forehead. She wore the standard lab coat of Konoha's Medical Core.

Sakura was once a member of the now-disbanded Squad Seven and is now one of the most skilled Medical Ninja around. That was a given; Tsunade trained her after all. After the Fourth Great Ninja War, Sakura continued her work as a Medical Ninja until she became a doctor at Konoha's Medical Clinic. No doubt aiming to be its director one day.

But her time as a doctor hasn't dulled her combat skills; her super strength is still something to be wary of, to anyone foolish enough to think her helpless.

"It's been a while since we've seen one another." Sakura greeted her former classmate.

"You joined the hospital full-time. It was the proper career path for you." Sakura's the obvious choice to succeed those like Tsunade and Shizune in the field of medicine.

"Thanks." Sakura nodded in gratitude. "But we should save catch up for another time." Sakura looked back at all her patients. It's going to be a long day for her. "You should get back there in case anyone else needs help. Or if that knucklehead bites off more than he can chew." Sakura said with a slight smile, she of all people, knows how overzealous Naruto can get.

"Naruto-Kun will be fine. But I agree I should go back." Hinata knew Sakura only said that in jest; they both have faith in Naruto. But old habits die hard. "Kuroka, can you..."

"Yeah yeah...just give me...two secs, okay...nya," Kuroka said from the floor as she was trying to catch her breath. She looked exhausted.

Both Hinata and Sakura came to her side. Hinata wanted to see if her teammate was alright, while Sakura used her Healing Jutsu on her. The Healing Jutsu did help Kuroka get her bearings, enough for her to speak clearly.

"I don't know how it works where you two come from, but teleporting all over the Underworld, too and from realms, it takes a lot out of you. You're lucky I'm just that good with Senjutsu, nya. Anyone else would've keeled over two hours ago."

Kuroka's confidence aside, Sakura found her examination concerning. "You've strained your energy too much, not that there's much left of it. It'd be best if you didn't go back."

Kuroka waved her off without a care. "Nah, I just need to top myself off with Senjutsu, and I'll be back on my feet, nya."

Sakura was unconvinced, though granted, she knew very little of Senjutsu. But with her hands full here, she's in no position to stop Kuroka from going. But speaking of strained, Hinata's eyes were also alarming.

Sakura's treated enough Hyūga to know when their eyes have seen better days, and Hinata's squinting is a dead giveaway. Hyūga's never squint, not even when looking at the sun. They only do it if their eyes have been overworked. Without asking permission, Sakura raised her hand and examined Hinata's eyes.

What she found was troubling. "How long have you used your Byakugan?"

"Only a few hours total time," Hinata answered while trying to hide the strain.

"Then why does it feel like you've used your Byakugan for more than a week." Even if Hinata was involved in heavy fighting, they shouldn't have gotten like this in half the day they've been gone. "What exactly have you been doing in the Underworld?"

"I understand your concern, but I'm fine. My part of the mission is done, I just what to check up on everyone else, and Sakura, your mission still needs seeing to."

Sakura looked back at the field hospital and its patients that need tending to. Her concern for her friend momentarily made her forget her priorities. Sakura shook her head in disbelief; the old Hinata would've never been that cheeky. It seems she's picked up some of Naruto's quirks. "Fine, not like I can stop you. But if your eyes start acting up, come and see me immediately."

Hinata nodded in agreement and then helped Kuroka to her feat, who looks like she's caught her second wind. Kuroka prepared her teleportation magic.

"Wait!" Suddenly, a desperate mother called out to Hinata. The injured mother limbed over to Hinata, despite the protests of a Medical Ninja who was tending to her. "Please...You..." She clutched her chest from a painful coughed. She looked weak, with pale skin. Her throat sounded dry; she was dehydrated.

Before she could fall, Hinata grabbed and held her tight, keeping her standing up. "You need to lie down and let the medics help you."

"Please...find him; you need to find him...my son..."

"Your son?"

"They split us up when they took us. He's only seven." Even though she was still in pain, the mother kept her hold on Hinata; she wouldn't let go. "You have to find him please!"

"We're doing everything we can." Hinata tried to calm her down while avoiding telling her the truth.

But the mother wouldn't listen. "Take me back there. I'll find him, please just let me find him! Let me find my boy!"

Suddenly in quick succession, Hinata gently hit a few of her nerve endings, making her go limp. At that moment, Sakura placed her hand on the mother's head and used a Jutsu to send her quietly to sleep. The grieving mother drifted off asleep and slowly tilted back and fell into Sakura's arms.

With the situation defused, Sakura assured Hinata she would look out for this woman. She didn't bother asking about her missing son, and how could she bring herself to ask a question they all knew the answer to.

There's no one left to find.

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Benimaru and Baraqiel have pushed the reaming defenders to the castle's south side. The Khaos Brigade's backs are against the wall. Naruto's Clone circled back around, searching for the two humans that the original Naruto fought.

But he's had little luck in finding them. Where'd the hell they go?

It's almost over: they just need to see it through. Containment and clean up, locate whatever small pockets of resistance remain and secure the castle.

Benimaru used his fire to corral their enemies. Neither one of them would risk facing those flames. They've seen too many of their comrades reduced to ash by them; their only option is to fly up. Just one problem, Baraqiel is waiting for them in the sky. With his master over his signature element, Holy Lightning, bolts coursed around his entire body. The skies were his domain.

"Normally, I would not make this offer, but your lives will be spared if you give up your futile resistance." Benimaru had his orders, and he understood why. There's much they don't know about this group; live prisoners can change that. Names, locations, anything they spill could be vital.

The flames intensity made it hard for the enemy to think. The heat was getting to them, and the flames were closing in.

One member of the Khaos Brigade, a Fallen Angel, took to the air in a desperate attempt to escape. Be barely got ten feet off the ground before he was struck by lightning; for a brief moment, his skeleton could be seen before he faded from sight.

That display was the final nail in the coffin. The Khaos Brigade could no longer keep up their defiance. With their surrender, the two right-hand men ceased their display of power and called off the flames and lightning, and allowed their subordinates to take the defenders prisoner.

Benimaru and Baraqiel stood next to each other, sizing the other one up. They've heard of one another's ability but seeing it was more informative.

It was strange, on any other day, if these two met face to face; they either would've walked away and pretended it never happened or made it, so only one walks away.

Times are changing.

"First time I've ever fought side by side with a Fallen Angel," Benimaru commented. The Kijin was just stating a fact; this is the first time he's ever watched the back of a Fallen Angel and trusted him to do the same.

Baraqiel, for the most part, ignored him. He had too many questions on his mind, one in particular. "Vali's betrayal aside, I question our presence here."

"You don't believe they're a threat?"

"I believe what they represent is, but are they themselves a physical threat." Baraqiel has yet to come across an opponent who could've matched him or Benimaru, and that was just this side. They had formidable fighters all over the place, including the human who made all this possible; the one who defeated Vali one on one and can use an impressive teleportation technique. "After today's showing, you and your human allies would've achieved the same result with or without our assistance."

If Benimaru weren't privy to secret information, he would've said the same thing. "What we faced here today were just their sacrificial pawns; it's their leaders we want. Some of them are threats we mustn't take likely."

Despite the enemy's strength, they faced today, Baraqiel would not slight Benimaru's warning. "Do you know the identities of their leaders?"

"If Azazel decides to work with us after today, then you'll be one of the first to know."

Both know that to be the case, or Azazel wouldn't have come along with his forces. They just need Azazel to let everyone on both sides know he's on board before they start disclosing vital information.

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The leaders observed the final stretch of the battle while their commanders pushed the enemy to the breaking point. Their infiltration teams have secured all vital objectives.

The end is in sight.

Shikamaru stayed in contact and managed the infiltration teams, ensuring they stayed put until reinforcements reached them. Yasaka and Azazel kept their people on a leash. There's distrust between them; this isn't the time to spark something and start a free for all.

But it doesn't look like they'll have to worry about that for too much longer. The two leaders could see Gaara on approach. If he's back, then the enemy commander must've been taken care of, removing another obstacle in their way.

He's also got something wrapped in a sand ball. Did he capture the commander instead?

Azazel waved him down. "Get to stretch your legs?"

Gaara descended, and his feet touched the ground. He's reunited with the other leaders. "The enemy leader has been dealt with, and their forces have fallen apart. At most, we only have a few holds outs left."

Yasaka joined the conversation. "Then it's practically over."

"I'll second that. Look up there." Azazel called out to everyone and pointed at the sky.

The leaders looked up and saw a familiar-looking armour soaring through the sky, crashing and bouncing off the perimeter wall. Azazel recognised it well. "Ha, that's Vali's Scale Male Balance Breaker; Naruto's kicked his ass twice today."

"Then he'll soon wrap this up." Said Yasaka. Naruto let him escape before so Vali could lead them here. This time Vali's coming with them in chains. "Now then, Kazekage, what have you brought back with you?" Yasaka could smell a lot of blood.

"It's the enemy commander. Her name was Katerea leviathan."

Azazel smirked and rubbed his hands together in amusement. "How about that an old friend from the war. Well then, let's have miss personality tell us everything she knows."

"That's no longer a possibility." Gaara opened a hole in the sand, and Azazel took a peek and immediately grimaced.

"Gaara, I'm looking left cuz this shit ain't right."

"What's the issue?" Yasaka asked Azazel in confusion. And really, what's with that cheesy pun.

"Gaara's playing show and tell with Katerea's intestinal tract. Gaara, is this a Shinobi thing? I mean, I think we should all know right now if you guys are gonna keep showing us your kills like trophies. I'm all for a collection you love, but this is taking it too far."

"There was something inside of her that gave her an increase in power."

"I don't want to know what she had for dinner."

"Did you identify it?" Yasaka asked, pushing Azazel aside. If the Khaos Brigade has found a way to empower themselves, it could become problematic.

"Something black; a snake maybe or a worm, I could be mistaken. I only caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared. But I do know whatever it was; it was powerful and dangerous and not something we should touch." Shukaku was adamant about not touching it.

"Is that why you couldn't take her alive?"

"The power-up was too much for her to handle. She was going to self destruct and tried to take me with her. She gave me no choice." Gaara gave her an out before she pulled her trump card. If she didn't let her pride get in the way, Katerea would still be alive.

"Hmm...there have been no reports of similar instances from our forces. It's likely only their leaders have this strange power-up." Yasaka said as she thought over what this 'black' thing could be.

"Lord Kazekage." Shikamaru joined the conversation. "All infiltration teams have reported in, and all of their tasks have been completed."

"Well, done. Your stratagem worked." Gaara complemented his second in command. It was Shikamaru's idea to deploy infiltration teams after Naruto, and the main force began the attack and drew the enemies' attention. "Were there any complications?"

"Two of the teams lead by Hinata and Souei encountered humans. One's a man named Siegfried using swords and a Sacred Gear. The other used some kind of purple mist or fog to vanish. Hinata suspects it to be a teleportation technique."

"Purple, you say?" Azazel cut in. "That sounds like Dimension Lost. Well damn, these guys got themselves a good one."

"How much of a threat is it?" Gaara asked, wanting to know if this could turn the tide in the enemy's favour.

"The mist can be used to teleport people, objects, even attacks into an artificial space. This guy must have bailed using that artificial space as his escape route... I wonder how far this guy can stretch the mist? He could end a country or the whole world if he had the ability." Azazel muttered that last part to himself, not noticing the others speechless looks. Does the enemy have a world-ending power?

"Hey, hey, don't give me those looks. Just, in theory, one could drop the world into the Dimensional Gap and kill us that way. But no one's ever had the skill to pull that off, so don't worry." No one's yet tried dumping a whole country in the gap, let alone attempt the world.

It's just a theory one will never prove...right?

Shikamaru was deep in thought after hearing this. He's noticed a strange pattern today. He wasn't sure if he was on to something, but after hearing the capabilities of this new Sacred Gear, he's positive.

"The Khaos Brigade's divided." He openly said his thoughts, catching everyone else's attention. "Angels were found among the enemy, but they were the first to run. The humans aren't fighting with the defenders. If anything, they've been stalling for time and aren't using Dimension Lost to pull everyone out." But he doesn't know what they are stalling for.

"If they're so divided, what could be keeping them together?" Yasaka asked, but in truth, it was the collective thought. Who or what keeps these groups together when they won't even stand together.

Just what is the Khaos Brigade, and who is its leader?

Hopefully, this castle will answer that.

The only threat left is Vali; it's all on Naruto now.

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Naruto watched Vali fly out of the castle after his punch, ending up on the other side of the defensive wall.

"Think he's still standing after that?"

"You should make sure of it. Break his back again like last time, hehe."

"I'll get right on that after I deal with them."

At that moment, Naruto sidestepped an unknown assailant who tried to impale Naruto. Naruto put his foot out to trip the attacker up but grabbed his arm before he fell out the hole in the wall.

He's handing off the edge now.

"That wasn't very smart, ya'know. And who's your friend back there?"

Naruto looked behind him to see the other one; this guy tried to punch him. But Naruto caught his fist effortlessly and threw him into the other guy and out the hole. Naruto jumped down after them just as they hit the ground.

These two have been watching Naruto as he fought Vali and the other Sacred Gear users. They didn't join in the brawl, just observed him. Perhaps they were studying him.

When the dust settled, Naruto got a better look at them. They're like some kind of duo with that appearance.

Both were in full heavy body armour. One was silver with yellow eyes and had a white cape. He had a long spear or halberd-like weapon; the blade itself was red. The other one was black with blue eyes and had a...thing on its back? Glass maybe, it was just hovering behind the helmet; Naruto didn't know what to call it. He didn't have a weapon; he's going barehanded.

Despite the differences between the armours, aesthetically, they were almost identical.

"I take it, you two tin men are using Sacred Gears just like the last guys? What does everyone have one of these things?" Everyone human or half-human Naruto's seen today just happened to have one. God gave them out like candy. When can Naruto get one?

The duo didn't answer Naruto; instead, they readied themselves and charged at the Shinobi. Naruto found these two a bit odd. They had basic fighting skills, must have had some training...but...

Naruto just dodged and avoided their attacks with minimal movement. Their moves were too wasteful, and the hesitation in their strikes.

"Rookies or maybe untested fighters; they've got the skills, got the tools, but doesn't feel like they've been in a lot of fights." Naruto certainly didn't get that feeling.

Why were guys this uncertain of themselves here?

After dancing around them, Naruto gathered a small amount of Touki in his fists. With two simultaneous punches, he sent them both flying into the castle wall behind them, cracking their armour in the process. After that, both were on their knees but still had enough will to keep fighting.

"You two are pretty new to this, aren't ya? Well, I don't know what you're trying to achieve, but do yourselves a favour and get out of this life while you can."

Naruto tried to convince them, but the one in silver armour made even more effort to get on his feet.

"Listen to me; these people you're working with are into some really messed up stuff. You don't want to be a part of that, so leave this life before it ends you." After saying his piece, Naruto turned his attention back to Vali, who was still in the same place.

That's when the one in silver armour made one more attempt to fight back, charging at Naruto, spear in hand.

Naruto just stood there.

CLANG!

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"Still gonna keep this up?"

Much to the spear wielder's shock, Naruto caught his weapon by its tip, and the metal was cracking under his grip. Naruto's hand was shrouded in some kind of red energy. He looked up, and instead of seeing Naruto's blue eyes, he saw red ones.

"Calm down."

The world went black like he was sent someplace else. But the spear wielder didn't care about that. It was what's behind Naruto that took all of his attention.

It was hidden in the darkness; he couldn't make out what it was. All he could see was eyes and teeth, giant red eyes like the stuff of nightmares, teeth sharper than any blade. When he looked into those orbs, his blood ran cold.

"Kurama."

"RAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!"

He didn't hear Naruto; he didn't hear anything, not under that ear-shattering roar. What's happening?! What is this?!

The world returned to normal, Naruto's eyes went back to blue, and all the spear wielder could do was shake in fear and drop his weapon.

"Kurama, was that necessary?" Seeing the reaction he got from the one in silver armour, Naruto was less than pleased with what had just gone down.

"He wasn't going to listen, so I'd shut him down. Vali's our priority. Get back on task before..."

BOOM!

Naruto spun around after hearing some kind of explosion. On the other side of the premature wall, Naruto could see a dome of blue energy.

"Before that."

What did Vali just do?

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Gaara, Shikamaru, Yasaka and Azazel could all see the dome of blue energy from across the battlefield. Azazel couldn't help but chuckle and shake his head. "Vali's either too proud or too desperate."

"Azazel, do you know that that is?" Gaara asked; Shukaku just told Gaara that Vali's power shot up.

"Oh yes. Naruto must have really gotten under his skin. To think he's actually going to use the Juggernaut Drive."

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After finishing up the last holdouts of the defenders, Benimaru and Baraqiel stopped after seeing and sensing a massive surge of power.

Baraqiel recognised who it was. "That fool."

"Baraqiel, what's going on?" Benimaru demanded an answer, do they need to go back and help?

But while Baraqiel was explaining what had just happened, neither they nor their men noticed someone approach.

Or the sound of trotting.

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Naruto jumped up to the castle wall to see what Vali had done. Instead, he saw what Vali had become. "Is that really Vali? He turned dragon?"

"So it would seem."

Vali's new form looked like a giant, more draconic version of his Balance Breaker, around fifteen meters tall. His back was no longer straight; he stood with a slight hunch, resembling more of a beast than a man. Vali's face protector morphed into jaws. His arms stretched out, and his fingers became claws.

"He really is a dragon now."

Vali then locked eyes on Naruto even though he was far away. His senses are even stronger now. The dragon opened his mouth and fired a blue energy beam at Naruto.

Not wanting to get hit, Naruto dodged the attack, and he saw it cut through and obliterate the castle floor he was just on. As Naruto descended, Vali fired several more blasts, but Naruto avoided each one. The castle's top floors all came crumbling down, being sliced to pieces.

"He's only interested in me." Naruto jumped from falling rubble to falling rubble until he reached the ground. "But why doesn't he try to run? He's got some distance on us."

"He must have caught on to the fact you're tracking him, but he wouldn't know how you're doing it."

"So he's gone back to basics, huh; take out the caster, and the Jutsu will fail." Shinobi tactic one-o-one. Vali won't or can't leave until he's taken out Naruto or 'disabled him'.

Capturing Vali was Naruto's job anyway, and this transformation doesn't change that. Before dealing with him, Naruto needed to make sure the two tin men didn't get in his way. But when he turned to where they were, all he saw was a little fading purple mist and two missing guys.

"Where'd they go? Kurama?"

"I don't sense their presence. They're gone." Credit where's it's due. Whatever the escape method was, it was timed right.

Naruto shook it off; there was nothing he could do about it now, and he leapt from building to building, heading for Vali. In the back of his mind, he hoped those two, whoever they were, would leave this life. Though he figured that was wishful thinking.

"Hey Naruto, are you hearing this? Are you enjoying the light show?" Naruto heard Azazel's voice in his left ear.

"Yeah, it's a sight to behold; what's Vali done?" Naruto asked sarcastically.

"Congratulations, you got Vali to use his trump card, the Juggernaut Drive." Azazel joked, making light of the current predicament.

"I thought the Balance Breaker was the trump card?"

"No, no, no, well okay, yes to most Gears, the Balance Breaker is a trump card, but for a Gear that houses a living entity, like Vali's, you get extra usage."

"Alright, then what's Juggernaut Drive?"

"It's like awaking the dragon within. Vali's calling on the sealed power within to kill you. Most would consider it an honour."

"He's undergone Tailed Beast Transformation? Can Issei pull that off too?" Now that would be a sight to behold. "What's the catch? Why didn't he use this when we first fought?"

"Probably because it's been the death of all the previous wielders that didn't die by someone else's hands. In exchange for a power boost, the user's life force is drained until they go mad and die trying to kill everything that moves."

Naruto took another glance at Vali. His dragon eyes still had sanity behind them. "Still looks like Vali's in control?"

"Yeah, a little trick he developed. He's using his Demonic power as a substitute fuel for the form instead of his life force."

"Shelving Chakra."

"What I had to do when we were still at odds." Back when Naruto could only use the first version of Kurama Chakra Mode. "But that means once his Demonic Power is used up, Vali's life force will be taken."

"After the beating he's taken today; he won't have enough power to maintain control for more than a few minutes."

"Azazel keeps the others out of this. I've got a plan. Just make sure no one gets in the way."

"One sec..." Azazel jumped on call for a few seconds. "Yep, okay, Gaara gave you the green light; talk about faith. But a word of advice, Vali will be less about tactics and more of going on a rampage, sure you don't want help?"

"Trust me; I've got a good idea what this fight's gonna be like." Like fighting Grendel, like fighting a Bijuu, it's going to get messy.

"Sure, sure you've got an idea and a plan. So what's your plan to deal with that?" Azazel asked; the image of him pointed in Vali's direction appeared in Naruto's mind.

Naruto saw Vali concentrating power on his centre jewel. A ball of violent blue energy appeared and was growing in intensity.

Naruto's danger senses flared. "Kurama, is that...?"

"Don't let it hit the castle."

Naruto wasted no time and created a Shadow Clone and threw him in Vali's direction. The dragon's attack finished charging and was fired, travelling across the wastes, creating a shockwave as it flew.

Before hitting the castle, the Clone appeared in front to intercept the attack. His hand reached out, and then they both suddenly disappeared.

The battlefield went silent as all sides tried to figure out what had just happened. Where's the boom? There was supposed to be a castle-shattering kaboom?

Naruto and Kurama took this moment to analyse the situation.

"Not comparable to my Tailed Beast Bomb, but still would've vaporised the castle and killed nearly everyone caught in the blast without protection." They would have heard the explosion in the distance if it was like Kurama's Tailed Beast Bomb.

"I only have around two more spots to redirect that attack too." The area Naruto just teleported the attack to would've been wholly obliterated, Maker in tow. "I won't let him fire another." Naruto was getting concerned. Did Vali do that willingly, or is this the influence of the Juggernaut Drive?

After fighting Grendel, Naruto knows how a dragon with intelligence fights, but this exchange confirmed something; Vali's Juggernaut Drive has more firepower than Grendel. The Young Shinobi will need to take this fight more seriously; everyone is in range of that attack.

Naruto tried to teleport to the Marker he placed on Vali, but nothing happened; the Marker wasn't working?

The Juggernaut Drive transformation must be interfering with the Marker placed directly on Vali. Since Vali's physical body is now that of a dragon, perhaps that also means the Marker is no longer physically present.

There's only one thing to do then.

"I'll reach him and teleport him away by hand and then..."

"No, we deal with him here."

"Why, what's the point of that? Why take the risk?" The castle's still in firing range.

"To show the Fallen Angels we're worth siding with," Kurama stated and went on into further detail. "The Youkai know you defeated Kokabiel; they know you beat Sun Wukong in a match, and you have Yasaka's backing. That's the same as having the support of a Kage in our world." That in lies the issue.

"We only have Azazel's backing and mere rumours to support you; his followers have no trust in us, and I have no confidence in them. So we show them, we show then why siding with us is in their best interests, and why turning on us is a fatal mistake." Don't let the Youkai and Fallen Angel's grudges get in the way of progress. Show them both the true power of the Shinobi.

"Not how I would've gone about it, but you have a point. Let's take him, Kurama."

"Rip him to shreds."

Naruto made one final jump and landed in the wastes, a short distance from Vali, who towered above him, whose eyes solely focused on him.

In the open wastes, no cover, no backup.

Just them.

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Azazel and Yasaka worked together; using their power, they erected a barrier to protect the castle and their forces should Vali or Naruto send an attack this way. They wondered if they should send Naruto suitable backup, but Gaara dismissed their worries.

"Let him work. We need to prevent others from interfering." That's all Gaara had to say. Naruto's display of power here will silence any doubters and improve the strength of any alliance.

Everyone else has done their job; now Naruto needs to finish his.

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Following Kurama's advice, Naruto eased up on his breaks. A layer of Kurama's red wisping Chakra appeared around Naruto, sprouting three tails. But Naruto didn't stop there: he grew a fourth tail, and Naruto's appearance changed drastically.

His skin flaked away, and the red layer of Chakra became so thick it bordered black, mixing the two colours into one form. His human features were gone from sight as the red Chakra completed enveloped Naruto and was taking the shape of a familiar creature.

"RAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR." Naruto completed his transformation into the Version Two Cloaked State, and his mighty roar silenced all others who heard it.

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Most of those who served as witnesses wouldn't believe that's Naruto if they didn't see his transformation. They could feel something in the air, twisting energy only those in the immediate vicinity could feel on their skin.

Azazel was taking note of everything he was witnessing, for even he was stumped. Nothing in his long life resembled the form Naruto just took. But he had a hunch; those tails must serve a purpose. With three, his skin was still visible. The moment the fourth appeared, he no longer looked human. What happens if more appeared? What's the limit?

Azazel glanced at Yasaka without her even noticing. "Is it nine?" But Azazel stopped that train of thought when he saw the battle was about to begin.

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Naruto, on all fours, made his move. This wouldn't be like those times years ago, where he would lose all sense of control and become little more than a rabid beast. Naruto and Kurama were partners; they worked together as one. With his new level of control and his intelligence intact, Naruto can bring out the full force of this form.

Naruto was the one who held the reins.

Vali was not intimidated and roared back, accepting Naruto's challenge. Drawing the power of the Gear, he fired several blasts at the oncoming Naruto. Naruto kept up his speed and fired back, gathering positive and negative Chakra before his mouth to create a miniaturised Tailed Beast Bomb.

The Tailed Beast Bomb is the signature attack of Kurama and his kind. Only the Bijuu or Jinchūriki in control of them can use this attack. From levelling cities to mountain ranges, this attack is one to be feard.

How far Naruto could take, it was yet to be discovered.

Naruto swallowed the compressed ball of Chakra and then released the attack. He fired several blasts back at Vali, intercepting each of his attacks.

The attacks collided, obliterating the ground between the two beasts. Shock waves were sent across the battlefield. So strong even those behind the barrier could feel.

Naruto jumped through the smoke and aimed directly at Vali. But the dragon was prepared; he stored up more power to fire a concentrated beam at Naruto, one he could not dodge at this range. Naruto countered by holding up a Tailed Beast Bomb as a shield, and the bomb scattered the beam on contact, allowing Naruto to get inside Vali's reach.

Naruto fired the bomb at point-blank range, pushing Vali back before detonating, engulfing the dragon. The explosion settled, but the Vali remained standing; the dragon's rage would not be quelled so quickly.

Naruto reached Vali and attacked with his tails; each strike's impact echoed. Then Naruto followed it up by grabbing the dragon's wings, jumping over Vali, and throwing him overhead to slam him into the ground.

Halfway through the throw, Vali used his wings to stop himself in mid-air, now Naruto's the one being thrown; one weighs more than the other. Naruto was the one to be slammed into the ground, but the moment he landed, he used his other tails to hook himself to the floor, stopping Vali from tossing him around again.

With Naruto rooted in place, the dragon attacked with an onslaught of swipes with its deadly claws. Vali's attacks became feral; a ceaseless assault mirrored a descent into madness.

Raising his arms, Naruto intensified the Chakra, causing his claws to grow in size till they matched Vali's. The demon fox paired the dragon's swipes, holding out, waiting for an opening.

Then one of Vali's attacks managed to knock Naruto's hand aside, giving Vali the opening he needed. The dragon's claw came down on Naruto.

This was the chance...and Naruto didn't miss it.

Once Vali's claw got close enough, another Chakra arm sprouted from Naruto's chest and wrapped around the dragon's limb. Around and around, travelling up the arm, until finally reaching the shoulder and punching the dragon across its jaw.

Vali thought he got Naruto to use up all his limbs, but he didn't know Naruto could make more from any part of his body.

With the dragon in a daze, Naruto prepared another Tailed Beast Bomb to end this. He fired; from this range, he could not miss.

"Half-Dimension!"

The dragon's voice was heard, and to Naruto's surprise, his attack shrank bit by bit until it faded from existence. Vali managed to raise his other arm to use his power. With nothing standing between his arm and Naruto, Vali will hit him directly with Half-Dimension. Naruto hastily prepared another Tailed Beast Bomb to block Vali's attack.

But neither made a move.

Naruto readied his counter and his escape, but Vali didn't take the bait; he just stood there menacingly.

"His mind is...Naruto, look at the eyes." Kurama was the first to notice.

Naruto could see Vali's eyes which were always bright blue, were shifting between blue and red. Something's wrong.

"His time's almost up. Naruto, go!"

Making good of this opportunity, Naruto rushed Vali, who was fighting to stay in control.

Gathering Kurama's Chakra into his hand, Naruto attacked with an enlarged devastating uppercut, sending Vali into the air, tearing off his wings which Naruto's tails still held on to.

When the dragon hit the ground, wings ripped off; it roared in rage, eyes burned with fire and anger, all caused by Naruto Uzumaki.

Vali had to win.

He needed to win.

He needed to escape.

He can't afford to lose.

Or she will pay the price.

In one final act of defiance, Vali stood up and poured his last drops of power into this attack. He must win. He will win!

"Here comes the big one," Kurama told his partner.

"Let's do it."

Building up the power they needed, the two beasts fired. Their attacks clashed in one final beam struggle; red energy met blue energy vying for dominance. The light caused by this struggle for power nearly blinded the observers.

Neither would give an inch.

Desperate for a victory, Vali used up the last of his Demonic Power to aid the attack. Vali's beam started pushing Naruto's back.

But then Naruto sprouted a fifth tail. With this extra boost of power, Naruto's beam pierced through Vali's.

Mere inches away from hitting the dragon, Vali's final thoughts were. "I lost...once again." He could no longer deny it, only accept it.

Naruto is stronger.

BOOM!

.


Naruto walked other to the crater's edge to find a motionless dragon in the pit. The dragon was covered in cracks, scorch marks and was missing its tail and wings. His eyes were colours, but he was alive.

"Now, do get Vali out of there." Though Naruto, time to see if this will work.

CRACK!

Just as Naruto was about to jump down, he heard and saw the dragon's claws dig into the ground.

"What the...?"

Somehow, the dragon moved again and slowly sat up despite its injuries.

"Seriously, Grendel took less, and he's dead. How's Vali still moving?"

"It's not Vali anymore."

Just as Kurama warned, Naruto looked into the dragon's eyes; all he saw was red. Kurama could no longer feel Vali's presence.

"The dragon's taken over."

As the dragon got on his feet, there was a change; its power was growing in intensity reaching new heights, and parts of its body were reforming and growing in size ever slightly.

"Vali's defeat left nothing but the dragon's rage to control it."

"One problem after another." The power spike caused the winds to pick up.

Suddenly a magical circle appeared next to Naruto's ear. The young Shinobi could hear Azazel's voice calling out to him in a panicked tone. "Naruto, that plan of yours, you still have it? Because Vali's no longer in control and the cap on Albion's power is coming undone. Once it's gone, Albion's power will be unleashed in an uncontrolled rage-induced state. Forget the castle; this whole landscape's getting remodelled." Vali will die, but not before destroying everything around him

"Is Vali still in there?" Naruto asked.

"Not for long. Look, whatever you're going to do, do it fast!"

"Trust me. I've got this." Naruto said with confidence, and he calmly walked towards the dragon, who was in the process of releasing its seal.

"Naruto, your plan now?" Azazel was getting frantic.

Naruto stood before the dragon, who looked at him. Naruto had one thing to say.

"DO IT, DO IT! COME ON, KILL ME, I'M HERE! COME ON, DO IT NOW, KILL ME!" Naruto shouted at the dragon to kill him, waving at him, goading him into attacking.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Azazel shouted in Naruto's ear, but Naruto tuned him out.

The raging dragon, not needing to be told twice, grabbed Naruto in a steel grip and lifted him into the air. It would not crush him; it would not devour him, no it will use the human's power to fuel itself to break the seal.

"Divine-Dividing!"

Naruto felt the waves again, attacking every part of his being. But he showed no resistance.

He only smirked.

.


Unbeknownst to everyone else, one of Naruto's Shadow Clone's hidden from all eyes, sitting in a meditating position, dispelled.

.


The dragon drew on Naruto's power; soon, it will break the seal, and its rage will be satisfied. But then he felt it, a foreign power coursing through its Gear. One the dragon could not control.

"Do you have any idea" Within the dragon's grip, Naruto spoke in a dark tone, unconcerned with his current position. "How much Senjutsu Chakra I had that Clone store up since I got here? You wanted to take my power, well then, here you go, take as much as you want!" Naruto's shit-eating grin could be seen for miles.

Slowly, beginning from his hand, the dragon's form was slowly turning to stone. The seal has yet to be undone, the dragon could not contain this much Senjutsu, and in its rage state and the madness of Senjutsu now coursing through its mind, he could not expel it either.

With the dragon's hand now fully turned to stone, Naruto used Kurama's power and broke out, destroying the limb as he did. With seconds to spare, as the rest of the dragon was turning to stone, Naruto reached for its centre jewel.

"Now, Kurama!"

.


Unlike the many times before, when Naruto would bring others into his mindscape, this time, Naruto forced his way into another's. Naruto wasn't too sure what he'd be walking into. His best guess was something chaotic.

He was a bit off the mark.

"It's so quiet." Outside Vali was a rampaging dragon about to turn to stone, but it was peaceful and dreary in his mind. There was nothing to see in the distance. It was a white and empty void, but in front of Naruto sat people wearing cloaks.

They sat huddled up beside each other surrounding Naruto like he was on the centre stage. But there was neither cheering nor judging, just silence. Naruto approached them slowly, waiting for some form of response.

"Feels like no one's home." Naruto bent down to see their faces. Humans for sure, both genders, all age groups, and many ethnicities. But their dead eyes stood out the most. Each was a hollow shell you could barely call a person. All with one thing in common.

"All of them are connected to Vali's Sacred Gear. Could these guys be...?"

"My previous wielders? You'd be correct." A deep voice echoed around the Shinobi.

"I was wondering when you'd show." Naruto gently looked behind him to see Vali's roommate.

Appearing from blue flame, hovering above Naruto was unlike any dragon he's encountered since coming to this world. Scales and fur of such beautiful white, you could easily become lost in its beauty. Blue glistening eyes and two golden horns made it easier to see the dragon in this mindscape. The dragon's form carried a sense of majesty that could never be replicated.

"You're the first dragon I've met who has fur and wasn't trying to kill me, ya'know."

"And you're the first human I've appeared to in this place who didn't cower before me and begged not to be eaten."

"Most people don't expect to see you when they go to bed." And the people that do meet this dragon for the first time probably didn't know anything about the supernatural world. "You're Albion, right?" Naruto rose to his feet and stood before the second Heavenly Dragon.

"The Vanishing Dragon, Albion." Ddraig's eternal rival and one of the most feared and respected dragons in existence. "And you, Naruto Uzumaki, in the short time I have come to know your existence, you have surprised me time and time again. Defeating my partner, even after using Juggernaut Drive, is one thing. But to enter this place as you did..." Not to mention that transformation Naruto used.

"Oh, I've had plenty of practice having a heart-to-heart in someone's head." Naruto talked about it without much care; this kind of thing has become all too common for him.

"To converse with me like this is something many today and throughout history can do. But to penetrate this deep into this Sacred Gear's psychic plain is something only a user of my power or Ddraig's power can accomplish." Albion has partnered up with humans for so long he's come accustomed to their ability to surprise and surpass expectations. It's their race's most remarkable trait. But that still doesn't explain how Naruto entered this place? "You alone couldn't have made a difference."

"You're right. I couldn't have got here all alone." Naruto smirked, looking forward to Albion's reaction.

Albion then felt its presence. It stayed hidden until now; the Vanishing Dragon couldn't feel even a hint of its power. But now, it materialized behind him and decided upon him like a storm. Albion turned around, and for one of the few times in his life, the Vanishing Dragon had to look up to see a giant orange fox.

"Well, now, the surprises never cease." Albion always wondered what it was like having to speak from the perspective of humans that met him for the first time. "Is this your connection to the Youkai, having a Kyuubi like this within you?" Albion's majestic blue eyes finally landed on Kurama's piercing crimson ones. "The world was under the belief Yasaka was the greatest of your kind." But Yasaka's true form doesn't even come close to half this fox's size. In comparison, this creature towered over Albion.

Kurama didn't care much for the comparison; this world holds none of 'his' kind. Instead, Kurama directed his attention to the lifeless humans that surrounded Naruto. "They're fragments. Split off from the previous wielders who met their end?"

"As is inevitable for those who use my power. The Dragon Emperors will never live to a ripe old age." All will meet their end. Be it their own hands or the hands of another. "And it's their rage that influences the Juggernaut Drive. Their hatred and desire to destroy."

With Kurama here, Naruto could feel all the hatred and negative emotions from these human fragments. It was so aggressive, much like a curse. "All this hatred, it will direct itself at whoever uses that transformation."

Albion answered Naruto by looking at one of those wielders in particular. The only one who wasn't a fragment yet. At the far end of the rows of hollow shells sat the only living Devil.

Naruto walked over to find Vali. Alive but unresponsive. He was bathed in a toxic purple aura oozing out of all the fragments around them. Their collective hatred has taken over his mind. Vali's thoughts are now nothing but destruction and rage. But Naruto could sense him; Vali's mind is still in there, buried under all that hatred.

Vali is not yet lost.

"I warned him this could happen," Albion said with a hint of worry. "Without his Demonic Power to act as a substitute, his life force will be taken to maintain the form...right up until the end." Unless something is done, Vali will die.

Naruto could read Albion; the dragon didn't want his partner to die, but as things stand, the dragon lacks a way to save him.

"Tell me what to do," Naruto said to the concerned dragon.

"You would help him?" Why? Are they not on opposite sides? Albion wouldn't turn him down if he could help it. But what does Naruto want in return? Why help an enemy?

"I promised I would save him, and that's what I'm here to do," Naruto said he would get Vali back, and he never goes back on his word.

Albion has seen that look before, an uncompromising vow. But Naruto's face was fiercer than all the others he had seen before. What drives this young man to possess such sheer will?

Albion instincts told him Naruto would be making some big waves in the future. "This human's one to watch." That the Vanishing Dragon was sure of. Not to mention the entity that dwells within him. He's one to be careful around. "We need to calm or control the negative emotions that have taken over Vali's mind. Something Vali holds truly precious would do, but we lack anything to fulfil that requirement, and none here know how to sing." Songs have quelled the rage of the Juggernaut Drive in the past. However, that's not an option this time around. "The only option left is for you to confront and suppress the hatred plaguing Vali's mind directly."

Naruto gathered Chakra in his hand till a blue aura appeared. "Got it."

"Naruto...direct exposure to all that hatred could cost you dearly. Even if you're not the target, your mind may not survive the ordeal. Are you certain you want to go through with this?" The risks are significant.

Naruto walked over to Vali, whose condition was deteriorating, and his skin was starting to go pale. "To confront hatred and stand against it is the duty of all Shinobi. Something I'll be doing a lot of down the road, no matter what form it takes." Naruto then chuckled gently and turned his attention to Kurama. "But that doesn't mean I have to face it alone, right. What do you say, Kurama, up for giving me a hand?"

"Humph, the battle's over, not much for me to do...fine...I'll help save the brat."

Grateful for his help, Naruto nodded to his partner and placed his hand on Vali's head. Naruto's Chakra began to envelop the young Devil, but slowly Naruto's Chakra was eclipsed by Kurama's, and a powerful reddish aura was replacing the sickly purple one.

Naruto considered placing a Sealing Jutsu to prevent Vali from triggering the form in the future. But, given Vali's current condition and Naruto's lack of understanding of the inner workings of Sacred Gears, he decided to shelve that idea. Azazel knows a lot about these Gears; it wouldn't hurt Naruto to seek his guidance on the subject for next time.

As the duo worked, Albion made a note of their abilities. Naruto had a strange resistance to outright immunity to all those negative thoughts. Not something one develops without overcoming great adversity; he was even keeping the Senjutsu he infected Vali with in check. The Kyuubi, Kurama was his name; has an unusual dominance over all that hatred.

An odd yet effective pair whose teamwork is nigh flawless. These two must've known each other for years. Albion wanted to learn a bit more about them, but this wasn't the time for that. For now, he'll keep the identity of Kurama to himself. The Vanishing Dragon has witnessed him and felt the sheer volume of power he holds, which is in the hands of a human with this kind of potential and drive.

An opponent, Albion, would like his partner to avoid fighting again in the future.

If Kurama were known, then the world would be talking about him. But only Naruto's existence is known, with people pondering the mysteries around him.

They came here to save his partner; the least Albion can do is keep Kurama a secret until they choose to reveal themselves, which is also inevitable.

"Hey, Albion," Naruto called out to the dragon with a smile, catching his attention one final time. "You ever think it wouldn't be a bad change of pace if one of your wielders got to live to a ripe old age?"

"Fate is rarely a kind one." The Heavenly Dragons are fated to fight one another; their rivalry is one of eternity. They fight; therefore, they are.

"Then try standing against fate for once."

"You speak as if it's possible."

"I'm still alive because it is. And alive to save this idiot."

.


Vali felt like he was drifting, floating in a dark, all-encompassing void. His mind was light as if it was fading away, and the darkness would soon consume him.

How did it come to this?

What did he do wrong?

Could this have been avoided?

...

Did he feel satisfied with the life he's lived?

...

"I..."

Vali then felt the touch; something just grabbed his hand, and it pulled him up with all its might. He looked up to see the light, and he heard a voice.

"Come on, wake up, you idiot!"

Vali's eyes shot open, and he finally took a breath. He kept gasping for air until he finally calmed down. His breathing steadied. Vali tried to move, but he couldn't. He couldn't even lift a finger.

"Where am I? What happened? I should be dead."

"Welcome back to the land of the living."

Vali looked to his left and saw Naruto sitting down next to him in a relaxed manner. His smile was gentle, and his eyes held compassion. Despite everything that happened, despite being enemies, Vali felt no danger from him.

"We were cutting it pretty close. A few more seconds and either the Senjutsu or the madness from your JD would've killed you. Luckily for you, I was able to handle both." With some 'small' assistance from Kurama. If Vali woke up a bit earlier, he might have seen his half-dragon, half-stone statue fade away like dust and him plop out.

"You... you saved me? W-why...how...you?" Vali had so many questions. What Naruto did to him as they fought and what he did for him when he nearly died.

"Let me answer your question with another question." Naruto leaned forward so Vali would hear clearly. "How did it feel to die?"

Vali was stunned silent. How was he supposed to answer that? Vali's silence only made Naruto's smile deepen.

"You spent the entire time back at Azazel's place talking about how great a life and death battle is, the glory of conflict and war, and how unbeatable your power is. Well, I gave you what you wanted. I gave you your fight. Are you happy, satisfied, fulfilled; was it everything you cracked it up to be?" Naruto's barrage of questions only worsened Vali's silence; he had no retort.

"Or do you feel alone, angry, lost...empty?" After fighting Naruto twice, did Vali gain a new perspective? "Vali, what you believe in is a lie, the biggest load of crap. You told yourself all those things so your life would have meaning." Naruto shook his head as he continued to speak. "And you don't even believe in your own crap that much."

"You don't...understand...why I do what I do." Vali put up a resistance, as pitiful and desperate as it was.

"If you really believed that, then why did you run after our first fight?" Naruto's calling him out. "Why didn't you face your defeat. Back at Azazel's, or here, same thing, same outcome. Why'd you run Vali?"

Vali hated what he was hearing; he couldn't accept it, he wouldn't. "Shut up...shut up...I wasn't running...it wasn't... it wasn't like that."

"I think I know why. It's not life and death fights you love; it's winning. That's what you love. You ran when we first fought because you couldn't accept losing to someone like me. Some no-named unproven interloper, right." But it was so much more than that. Because Azazel told him...told him about Vali's past. "You fight to find reason in your existence...because of what you grew up in." Naruto's tone softened when he delved it into Vali's personal history.

Vali heard the hidden meaning, and he looked at Naruto in a shocked and lived expression. The rage he carried as a dragon was slowly coming back.

Naruto was unflinching under those eyes and with his words. "Don't give me that look. Azazel told me because you gave him no choice. You think he wanted to spill your secrets? No, you forced him to. Because that was the only way he could guarantee my help in saving your sorry ass from your stupid games."

Vali's anger was replaced with confusion; what did Naruto just say? "Azazel...wanted you to...?"

"Yeah, ain't that something. The guy you walked out on, the man you turned on when you sided with these scum; he was the only one who stuck up for you." Naruto recalled the events before they attacked the castle. "Oh, you should've been there; he really embarrassed himself when he spoke on your behalf to Yasaka and Gaara and in front of all his people too. The other Fallen Angels didn't care if you got killed. Heck, even Azazel's right-hand man, Baraqiel, didn't care. Azazel was the only one, the only one trying to protect you from the Youkai and my people for what you did to them!"

"What are you talking about? I haven't done anything to the Youkai, and I failed to...to do anything to you or your people." Vali countered; the only person he's tried to harm is Naruto.

"Seven, seven are dead because of you." Naruto's eyes became hardened, his tone darkened, forcing Vali to listen involuntarily. "I only found out after I returned home. There were two teams at that base, mine and a salvage team. When you tipped the enemy off, and they attacked us, seven members of the salvage team died in the fighting." The air became thick, and a bluish aura formed around Naruto. "They died because you were bored." Naruto leaned closer to the defenceless Vali. "They deserved better." This was the first time Vali felt genuine anger from Naruto, which even shook him up.

"Look around you, Vali! Look at where your actions got you!" Naruto gestured to the barren wasteland around them. "Was it worth it? The great Vali Lucifer, the White Dragon Emperor; defeated twice in one day, dying in a ditch in the middle of nowhere. A real legacy you left for future generations, huh."

"I...don't fight for fame...if you think..."

"No, you don't fight for fame. You fight for your pride even if it costs others their lives. Well, guess what, if you measure your life by satisfying your desires, even if it causes wars, and death and destruction on others, just for your idea of fun. Why are you worth remembering, why do you deserve to use Albion's power...and what separates you from the likes of Rizevim?"

Those words cut deep, deeper than any blade. For the first time in his existence, Vali was wondering...questing..."What is he...What am I..." What is Vali even doing? What is he accomplishing, what has he accomplished? Those questions rang in his head, ones he's never, ever thought of before.

What's Naruto trying to do.

...

"What...what would you do then?" Did he actually ask that? Why did he ask that? Did Vali want to know his thoughts?

Naruto was outwardly surprised at Vali's question. Is he finally looking for an outside opinion? "Instead of spending your entire time fighting to prove your existence, try looking at who's next to you to help find it."

"You may have that; I don't." Vali has no one other than Albion, and that dragon just wants to fight Ddraig, if Vali was his host or not. "I have no one in my life."

"Why not start with the guy who took you in when you were alone. Why doncha start there." Azazel's been on his side from the very start.

Vali looked up at the sky, that sickly purple, thinking, just thinking. What's Naruto trying to do here? Why say these things...why...why try and help him after what he did?

Why?

Why?

Why?

Naruto should be finishing him off; he is a threat, a loose end. He should be removed from the board.

That's what Vali would've done; that's what everyone else would've done. But he...

Why?

Why?

Why?

Vali looked back at Naruto. He had to ask. "Why?"

Naruto shook his head. "You don't get to ask that, not until you figure yourself out. And understand this, if you ever get bored again, don't run off to the enemy; give me a call instead. I'll kick your ass each and every time if it makes you feel better." He means it; Naruto would break every single bone in his body if that's what it took.

For the first time, Naruto's words reached Vali and brought out a genuine smile from the overly proud Dragon Emperor. "You're...insufferable..." Vali uttered those last words, almost like acknowledgement, before drifting off to sleep; it was impressive that he could stay awake for as long as he did.

"I know." Naruto lifted Vali over his shoulder. "Let's get you home."

.


Naruto jumped up on top of the wall, where the leaders and every other important person stood. With the unconscious Vali on his shoulder, Naruto rejoined the others.

"One Vali right here and...okay, what's with the staring?" Though he could do without the looks.

Naruto's close friends, the Shinobi, those looks were normal. Along the lines of 'well done.' 'good job' 'took your sweet time.' Even the Shinobi, who have never seen Naruto in action, looked well. They heard about it, just never seen it. But the others? They were the funny ones.

From being in awe to astonished, Youkai seeing the first Shinobi they ever met in play. Fallen Angels, who at first thought Naruto was in over his head taking on a Heavenly Dragon, are now more respectful and aware of the food chain.

Naruto looked through the crowd and spotted Hinata and Kuroka. They must've returned when he was fighting Vali. While Hinata was the same as always, she had complete faith in him, though something was up with her eyes. Kuroka was a little shell-shocked.

"Naruto, nya?" Shell shocked as she was, the Neko was the first to speak. "You're kinda scary when you go red."

"Sorry, not much I can do about that. It's kind of a packed deal, ya'know."

"Humph."

"I mean, what was that? And at the end, you turned Vali to stone with Senjutsu. I know what I sensed, nya." During the battle, Kuroka felt Naruto go from no Senjutsu to suddenly have more of it than when he sparred against Sun Wukong. "Was that some kind of Senjutsu petrifaction magic, nya?" Petrifaction that work's on a Heavenly Dragon, heck yeah, Kuroka wanted to learn that.

"I'll tell you about it at some point, just not today." Naruto waved her question off and walked past the sulking Neko her.

"So stingy, nya!"

Naruto ignored the annoyed Neko behind him and walked through the crowd. They gave way to him like he was the biggest man in the room. Naruto made his way to the leaders.

"Azazel, as we agreed, one disappointment right here." Naruto handed the unconscious Vali to Azazel, who immediately dumped the responsibility on two of his men to carry.

"Thank you for the delivery and the show. I haven't had this much fun in one day in years." Azazel's words carried mixed messages, and Naruto couldn't tell if he enjoyed the day or was complaining about the day.

"I'm not going to have to do this again, am I? I don't want to be the one who fetches Vali every time he runs away from home."

"I'll be keeping a close eye on him from now on. This won't happen again." That was also a part of the agreement. If Azazel can't control Vali, he'll have to take responsibility.

Yasaka and Gaara soon joined them, and all three leaders ordered their people to disperse. Naruto opted to leave with Hinata and Kuroka. He wanted to check on Raphtalia and Xenovia to see how they were faring.

The leaders were now on their own. They had things to discuss.

"This operation was a success," Gaara stated. "But we have witnessed a great many things today that doesn't bold well for us."

"Humans with Sacred Gears and Longinuses, Devils, Fallen Angels and the Angels of Heaven. Grendel, Pluto, and maybe even Hades; we are facing an army the likes of which has never been seen." Yasaka said with worry; this enemy was bigger than any one faction could handle. Because of this, Yasaka had to put aside her personal grievances. "Azazel, I trust you understand just what we are facing here."

Azazel was a little miffed at that. Yasaka didn't say it, but she might as well have. She couldn't stand him, but that didn't matter right now. "Geez, I know, I know, cut me some slack. That got to Kokabiel, Vali, and my guys were fighting my guys out there. So I don't care if the other Grigori ain't here; we, I could use some backup."

"The Shinobi already have a front of their own," Gaara interjected. "We can't offer whole armies, but we can offer special support to you, but only if you're willing to help yourselves," Gaara said to both leaders. The Shinobi can't fight on two fronts. The Youkai and Fallen Angels must make a stand. Do that, and they can count on the likes of support from Naruto and his team.

Yasaka nodded with resolve. She already agreed to that. Azazel also nodded; he's on board.

This will bring about a great change. Three Factions stood together on the eve of their first fight against the Khaos Brigade.

They had to. There was no going back. Today was no mere battle but a statement, a declaration of open defiance against the Khaos Brigade. They knew who they were, what they would bring upon them, and this new Alliance would do everything in its power to stop them.

The Khaos Brigade won't forget this day, for both sides knew. This conflict, the face of it, will change.

The Alliance needs to prepare for the Khaos Brigade's revenge for their losses here.

...

Or has their retaliation already begun; the three leaders were suddenly interpreted by the arrival of a handful of Youkai and Fallen Angels, terrified and badly injured.

Yasaka felt her heart sink when she saw who the Youkai carried. "Benimaru!" She rushed over to her Samurai General to confirm her worst fears. "No, he's alive." Her heart steadied when she felt his heartbeat. But his injuries still shook her. He was bloodied beyond belief; even one of his horns was missing. Yasaka looked to her left and saw Baraqiel being looked at by Azazel. The Fallen Angel was in no better state than Benimaru.

Yasaka had one question. "Who did this?" Blue fire released from her tails, threatening to melt the very wall they stood on.

"A human." The injured Youkai spoke; Yasaka could taste his fear. "He wore black armour, but I could barely make him out. I've never seen a human move like he did; all I could see was a streak of red when he carved through us." The Youkai shook when he remembered that fight...no that slaughter. "He was a beast. Lord Benimaru and Baraqiel tried...but...a-after their defeat, we did everything we could to get them out of there." The Youkai then lost his words for a moment; he steeled himself. "The others bought us time, but...but they... they didn't make it."

Yasaka held back her flames, her anger. She mustn't lose her composure. But when these two wake up, she will know who did this. "Who else do the enemy have?"

.


Far away up on the mountain range overlooking the now occupied castle, he watched. The enemy he will soon be facing, the foes Cao Cao called him to test.

He wanted for his moment and got the drop on two prominent people: Yasaka's and Azazel's right hands. They offered some entertainment, but they didn't give him what he wanted, just like all those before them.

Cao Cao promised he would get what he sought, but so far, he's been disappointed. But the war is still young. There will be others. Those leaders, that Naruto, and those who follow him. There were plenty to choose from.

All he wishes is to wield his blade in battle. He does not care who comes. So long as they offer him a decent challenge.

With nothing left to see, he turned his back on the castle and rode away from atop Red Hare

.


Naruto entered the castle's lower floors and met up with his team. Xenovia and Raphtalia looked worn out, but otherwise, they were fine. Souei left to see Benimaru; they just heard what happened to him.

The team walked through the halls of the occupied castle. They know there's no one left to find, but they wanted to see what she found. Entering a new room, past all the cells that housed the captured villagers, the team found Sakura.

"Hey, Sakura-Chan." Naruto waved happily at his former teammate; he hadn't seen her for a while. "Did you find something?" The room they were in had a lot of cupboards and was dimly lit with a few wall candles. But the centre of the room had a long table, long enough for a person to lie on. There were even restraints on the top and bottom of the table.

Naruto was getting a bad feeling. "What is this room?"

Sakura turned to him with a sorrowful face. "The missing villagers were examined here."

"Then...where are they?"

Sakura opened one of the cupboards, and with a heavy heart, she stepped aside so the others could see. Jars, capsules, full of body parts. Organs, blood, bones, and more.

"They were dissected. Judging by the restraints, some were alive during the procedure."

This horror muddled Naruto's mind. Why do this? The Devils they captured are being kept on life support. The ones that died in battle were dissected. But the villagers, they were alive, and they weren't soldiers. Why do something so cruel? What would it even prove?

Seeing Naruto so silent, Sakura could guess what he was thinking. "They know we have a power they've never seen before. The experiments done here were to see any differences the villagers were, compared to the humans the Old Satan's knew."

"But that still doesn't explain needing to do it alive?" Raphtalia stepped forward to ask. She's no stranger to the cruelty of the Old Satan Faction; she was less shocked than Naruto.

"To test their durability, pain tolerance. How much they can endure. If our power has an automatic defence mechanism." Sakura listed off her many theories.

"They just wanted to see how much they can take before they drop." Kuroka summed it up. This room reminded her of her old master and the shit he performed on people.

"They have experience facing our fighters. By doing these experiments on the villagers, they can see how much training can affect our abilities. They were...thorough." Sakura said with a slight hesitation; she prepared herself to explain. "The list of still missing villagers, and the organs I've examined, show they performed on multiple age groups. No doubt to see if adolescence causes a change. Or if the elderly have lower levels of energy." Sakura avoided saying Chakra.

When Sakura said age groups, it caused Hinata to flinch, and her thoughts became troubled. "How young did they...?"

"Based on my findings, as young as seven," Sakura answered before Hinata could ask. When she discovered that Sakura was worried about how well Hinata would take it, let alone the mother.

Hinata was lost in thought, thinking about the grieving mother wanting nothing but her child back. Now pieces of him are in these jars, and she didn't have the stomach to go back and tell her. She then felt a hand touch her shoulder; Naruto wrapped his arm around her, who'd gotten his mind back on track. His gentle touch gave her comfort, and she rested on his shoulder.

With Naruto up and about again, Sakura continued, "Make no mistake; this isn't about senseless cruelty. They're doing everything they can to learn about us."

"To learn how to kill us, enslave us, or worse. I know the score." Naruto's eyes burned with resolve. "This just adds more reason to take them down." The Khaos Bridges days are numbered.

"Good to know." Shikamaru showed up, holding a device. This was the machine called an iPad used widely in this world. To Naruto, it looked like a notepad but was silver and made of metal and glass. "Because the task of taking them down just got a lot harder." Shikamaru approached them to show them his findings.

"What've you got?" Naruto asked. He was impressed Shikamaru could already use that. The phones of this world confused Naruto, let alone that thing.

"Thanks to these two's work." Shikamaru pointed to the sword wielders. "We got access to the central computer, and we found this." He turned the screen over.

"The Network." Naruto recognised it; it's what they found back at that outpost. "You've got access?"

"This castle served as a hub for the signal, and it's showing us the location of other outposts scattered around the Badlands. Like the one you took today."

"Then what's the problem? This is great. We've got their locations now; we can take them all down by the end of the week." Or let Naruto send a Clone to each one and bury them.

"Slow down." Shikamaru didn't want Naruto charging off without getting the complete picture. "The Network's signal reaches other areas of the Underworld, bases just like this one in Devil, Fallen Angel, maybe even Dragon territory." Those are just the first three; the Underworld's a big place.

"The one in Fallen Angel territory won't be a problem." Xenovia said. "But the one's in Dragon and Devil turf will be an issue. We can't just charge in there without suffering retaliation."

"I mad a carrier dodging Devil's, nya. I can get us in and out of there no problem." Kuroka boosted.

"The locations outside the Badlands will be hubs like this one. Any fighting there won't go unnoticed by the locals, and the Khaos Brigade could have some higher-ups in their pockets." Shikamaru can already see it. "All they'd have to do is label an invasion charge on us, and that's ground for a full-scale retaliation from the main Factions." That would be a disaster. It would destroy their Alliance's credibility, whose only task is to stop the Khaos Brigade. "Besides, it's not just here."

That got everyone's attention, and the whole room waited with batted breath. "The Network is bouncing off the Underworld." As crazy as it was.

"What's that even mean?" Naruto asked in confusion.

"It means they're based not just here, but out there. The human world, and whatever worlds you can plant your feet on."

The Khaos Brigade's reach was far; they saw that today. Now they've got it in writing. They need to track these places down and dismantle their entire operation. Whatever goals, plans, and the means to carry it out, no matter what they have or who they have, it's all going to come crashing down. And when they find the guy in charge, Naruto will be the first to knock on the guy's door before dragging him out into the light.

Unbeknownst to everyone else, Sakura kept one thing hidden; she couldn't say it with some people in the room. The one organ she couldn't find was the Chakra Network.

It's missing.

It must have been shipped off...it's even possible they extracted the Chakra too. If the Old Satans or the Khaos Brigade have both, what do they plan to do with it?

.


The victors returned to Urakyoto, the battle was won, but no one was in the mood for a celebration. This was only the first of many battles, two of their commanders were severely wounded, and the enemy had many faces. So the people enjoyed a quiet time of food and drink.

It was also a chance for Factions to middle with one another. Youkai, Fallen Angels, and Shinobi, sharing stories and opinions. It seemed to be going well. Was it because they fought together against a common enemy, or do these fighters have the same mindset; play nice to focus on the real problem.

Naruto was hanging near the steps to Yasaka's palace. Around him were small groups of people chatting with one another, but Naruto was alone.

Kuroka didn't care to socialise; she went off somewhere, probably sleeping up a tree. Xenovia did join a small group for a chat. It was predominantly Shinobi. Naruto could see her asking them many questions; her intensity made them sweat. This was a time to relax, but she gave them a questionnaire.

Hinata and Raphtalia were tired or stressed. They were done for the day, and they didn't have the energy for this. Naruto couldn't blame them; today didn't go as planned. It's been one crisis after another.

Naruto decided to stick around just to make sure everyone played nice. But he found himself at the mercy of a little Kyuubi's enthusiasm.

"Everyone's talking about it. They say you went up against the White Dragon Emperor, you went one on one with the dragon, and you beat him." Kunou was gushing about Naruto's exploits. When she heard the others talking about it, she rushed to ask the man himself. "Did that really happen? Did you beat the Vanishing Dragon? Did ya, did ya?" Kunou was shaking with anticipation.

"There I was in the wastes, no cover, no back up with the White Dragon Emperor standing before me." The young Shinobi would forget about today's woes and play along with the young Kyuubi's question. Naruto played storyteller, while Kunou's eyes were that of stars wanting to hear the whole tale. "But did I lose my cool?"

"Not a chance," Kunou answered him with joy.

"Correct, the dragon came upon me from the skies, teeth ready to tear me apart, but I stood my ground. Sidestepping his magic, the dragon couldn't touch me, and I waited for my moment to strike." Naruto was getting into telling this tale. "But then the dragon managed to corner me. I had no way out."

Kunou gasped. "What'd you do? How'd you get out? Was that all part of the plan?" If she were sitting down, Kunou would be at the edge of her seat.

Naruto didn't lose momentum and kept the story going. "I was pinned down, then the Dragon Emperor charged. But I was more than prepared. I readied one of my most powerful attacks, the Tailed Beast Bomb." By his, he means Kurama's, and by powerful, he meant a miniature version of it, no bigger than him. Except for the last one, that had more kick to it. "I aimed smooth and steady; I waited for the moment. Then I fired, and BOOM!" Naruto shouted with his arms stretched out, emphasizing the size of the blasts. Kunou's excitement only grew. "And when the dust settled, I stood above the Vanishing Dragon in victory." Naruto held his chin up high; his ego was booming.

Kunou jumped up and down, clapping her hands, praising Naruto's abilities while the young Shinobi just stood there enjoying being in the spotlight.

Those around them who heard the whole thing got a little laugh out of it. They knew what Naruto was doing, giving the little girl some fun. While Naruto may have exaggerated the tale, he did beat Vali one on one, twice, so none had the stomach to interrupt or say otherwise.

After a while, Kunou stopped jumping up and down. She began to fidget; something was on her mind. "They also said you turned into some kind of beast when you fought the Heavenly Dragon. Is that true?" Kunou was no longer star-eyed.

"Beast! Me, a beast...that's not fair." It's not his fault; that's just how the form works. Naruto tried to salvage his image in her eyes. "I did do a transformation, kind of, but I wasn't a monster. It was still me." Naruto stated with confidence. He won't let others tarnish her image of him.

"Then...then can I see it?"

...

"Oh no." Red alert, red alert!

Naruto looked to his left, then his right, hoping the bystanders would say something to get him out of this. Nope, they were silent. They saw the form, and it scared them then, but telling the princess of the Youkai no, they're not touching that with a ten-foot pole.

Seeing how he was on his own, Naruto tried to worm his way out. "I know you really want to see it, but...well, I don't want to scare you. Your mother would kill me." That Naruto was sure of.

"Please, Naruto. I promise I promise I won't get scared." Kunou then unleashed her greatest technique, the puppy dog look. Her yellow orbs could not be rejected.

"I...umm...I mean..." Naruto was in trouble. "I can't say no to her." He defeated Vali but lost to Kunou. "Fine, if you promise not to get scared, I'll show you." Kunou beamed a smile when Naruto agreed to show her.

"Kurama, we're doing this."

"You can't be serious."

"Just do this for me."

"My Jinchūriki, how low he has fallen."

Those around them all stopped talking and watched Naruto as intensely as Kunou was. They knew what was coming. Now they're going to see it up close. Naruto first gathered a cloak of red Chakra around him. "This is how it starts." But slowly, tails began to grow, Naruto's facial features became feral, beast-like, and his voice got darker. "But as the power increase, my body changes."

Kunou didn't break eye contact, and she stood firm. Naruto's new look was intimidating, but she won't let herself be scared.

"Now, my appearance is going to take a real change. But remember, it's me. It's still me, alright?"

Kunou nodded rapidly; she wanted Naruto to show it already.

Naruto took a deep breath and grew the fourth tail. His skin flaked away, replaced with thick black and red Chakra. No longer human, but a demonic four-tailed beast. Naruto kept his Chakra under control; he won't let himself crack the ground beneath him, let out a chilling roar or a wave of Chakra to blow everyone away.

They saw it before, now they see it again. The warriors still couldn't stop themselves from gulping.

Kunou though...

Naruto could see it. Her legs were shaking, her arms became stiff, and she wouldn't move a muscle. Naruto was worried. He shouldn't have done this; he should have said no...why did he...

Kunou took a step, and Naruto stopped thinking. She took another, and another, ever slowly Kunou got closer to Naruto until she was only a hairs breath from Naruto.

All were speechless at the sight of her bravery.

Then she did something no one else has ever done or could do...she wrapped her arms around him, she hugged Naruto's beast-like form. Naruto kept his Chakra from burning her; he would never forgive himself if he let that happen.

Kunou then looked up, her arms still wrapped around Naruto. She looked him right in the eye. "I won't be scared. Because Naruto is still Naruto, no matter how you look."

...

"Sniff..."

"Are you...are you crying?"

"I'm not crying...I'm not."

"By the Sage of Six Paths, you are crying!"

Even when he looks like this, Kunou's thoughts of him didn't change; where was this mindset fifteen years ago?

"Naruto-Kun...no, I can't call you that, that's what Hinata uses. I can't call you Sama either...San's too boring." Kunou complained. Hinata beat her to it, and the other ones were too formal. But then she smirked; there's one line up for grabs. "Onii Chan...Naruto-Onii Chan. Yes, from now on, you're my Onii Chan."

STAB!

Those words knocked the cloak right out of him, and Naruto returned to normal almost instantaneously. He felt an unblockable attack pierce his heart.

"Kurama...this isn't good...that was a critical hit."

"Stay strong; you're not beaten yet!"

"I've always wanted a big brother. Konohamaru calls you Big Brother Naruto, but I'll call you Onii Chan." Kunou had the cutest smile. "Yes, I don't want anyone else as my Onii Chan but you."

STAB!

"I can't...it's too much."

"Resist it, resist it, you BRAT! WHERE'S YOUR SHINOBI PRIDE!"

"Kunou...ya'know...Yasaka won't..."

"She will. She will; she will, I promise." That look, it's stronger than any Genjutsu. "Please be my Onii Cha." Tsukuyomi's got nothing on this.

"I..."

"Naruto?"

"Well..."

"No, no, no."

"If...ah."

"NARUTOOOOOO!"

"I guess it...could be okay ya'know."

"YOU FOOL! YOU'VE DOOMED US BOTH!" Kurama couldn't accept it. Naruto lost to this cub of all things. What is wrong with this world.

Kunou was over the moon, back to jumping up and down like nothing could stop her. She had a big brother now, and that's all that mattered. Those around them couldn't believe it; this little girl was braver than all of them combined. And to see Naruto acting like this after taking that form...they all collectively thought.

"He's no beast." The Shinobi already knew; the others were the ones who needed convincing. They almost felt stupid for being afraid of him after seeing all that.

But then Kunou's cheering was interrupted by a certain someone.

"Oh, he's your Onii Cha now, is he."

All the happiness in the world faded away as everyone turned to see Yasaka making her presence known. Gaara and Azazel were behind her, not saying a word.

When they returned to Urakyoto, the three leaders headed into the place to discuss forming the Factions Alliance. The Shinobi and Youkai were already allied, but with the addition of the Fallen Angels, they needed a name.

The Factions Alliance seemed appropriate, as factions uniting like this has never happened before, teetering from joint add to a permanent alliance. Typically such an occasion would be a grand event, but Azazel had none of it.

'Let's just ally and be done with it. That's the whole reason we're here, aren't we.' Azazel wasn't wrong, and he didn't want to waste time with a premature celebration. People from his side have joined the enemy, and he needs to find these leaks and shut them down. The faster they ally, the sooner he can get on the job.

Each of them will have to announce it to their people, but at this moment, it's official.

The Youkai, the Shinobi, and the Fallen Angels have come together to form the Factions Alliance. There would be no celebration, no parade, just an official declaration to their leaders, banding together to get the job done.

And one of those leaders first order's of business, addressing all the noise outside her palace.

The Queen of Youkai heard the whole thing. Her eyes locked on Naruto, looking for an explanation.

Naruto stuttered under her gaze; this wasn't even his doing.

"Yes, he is!" Kunou rushed to Naruto's side and clung to him. She would never let him go.

A fierce stare down went down between the Queen and Princess of Youkai. Lightning could be seen shooting from their eyes and clashing for dominance. Neither would back down, neither would give in.

Until one finally did.

Against all expectations and to the shock of all, Yasaka blinked first. With a heavy sigh, she backed off. "Do what you will."

They couldn't believe it...Yasaka gave in for the first time!

Azazel looked dumbfounded at Naruto, wondering what kind of magic was pulled off to outstare Yasaka. The disgruntled leader of the Fallen Angels walked over to Naruto, who couldn't pry himself free from his new little sister's grip.

"I want to know. I want to know so badly how you came out on top." Azazel misunderstood what happened; this was Kunou's doing, not Naruto's. "But things to do, and that includes you."

"Pardon?"

"Oh, a certain someone woke up, and he wants to see you right now." The first thing he said when he came to.

"Who's calling for me?"

"Who do you think genius."

.


They could hear the loud noises coming from the other side of the palace, but it didn't concern them. Raphtalia was tired, and Hinata hoped for some time away from crowds after today.

It's been hectic.

"More than you expected for your first official mission as a member of the team." Hinata joked to Raphtalia. Infiltration the Underworld and retrieving Kuroka didn't count; she wasn't a full-time member back then.

"Is a Shinobi's work always like this?" Raphtalia asked in a light-hearted way. "Can't imagine how the other two feel."

"No, but I know Konohamaru will be annoyed he missed out."

Raphtalia chuckled at that; she could picture see his face when he finds out. "Well, nothing we can do about that now. What's important is we completed the mission, and all came home."

"Yes, but not all of us," Hinata commented with a sorrowful face, remembering those who died at the outpost and the villagers how didn't make it. She can't imagine what that mother is going through.

Raphtalia nodded in agreement. Not everyone comes home. Seeing Hinata look like this made her think about him. "I hope Naruto-Sama is taking it well." She whispered to herself, but Hinata heard her.

"You worry about him a lot, don't you, Raphtalia?"

"He saved my life and...Keeps trying his best for all of us..."

"I know, I feel the same way. Naruto-Kun thinks he needs to take the front at all times. He believes a Hokage must walk ahead of everyone else, enduring their own pain while shouldering the pain of his comrades. And while it hurts to see him carry such a heavy burden, this is the path Naruto-Kun has chosen. The best thing we can do for him is be there for him when he stumbles."

Raphtalia found herself holding on to Hinata's every word. But it also made her jealous. Hinata understands him more than she may ever will. "Sometimes I wish there was something more I could do for him, to help relieve him of some of his burdens." He takes on so much with a smile, but Raphtalia will always worry if the burden becomes too much. "I wish he would rely on me a bit more," Raphtalia said subconsciously, forgetting who she was sitting next to. The young Youkai was quick to notice her mistake. "I mean...I..." Raphtalia's words fumbled.

"Raphtalia, I want to ask you something. Can you answer honestly for me?" Hinata has watched her actions a lot today, and Raphtalia was reminding Hinata of her old self.

Raphtalia's nervousness peaked under Hinata's stare, but she nodded all the same.

...

"You love Naruto, don't you?"

...

Raphtalia didn't answer; she didn't speak. How, how did Hinata know? No, not like this; Raphtalia didn't want to ruin things, not after everything they've been through. She tried to get up to leave, but Hinata grabbed her arm, stopping her in place.

"Raphtalia, nothing will happen to you. I just want to know."

...

"Hinata...I..." She can't hide it any longer.

"How long?"

"Since we came back from Kuoh...maybe even before then. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to make things difficult, for you, for him, not now."

"And how do you feel now?"

"I thought being by his side would be enough. But it..."

Before Raphtalia could finish, Hinata wrapped her arms around her, easing the tension and offering a shoulder to her friend. "You don't have to explain. I understand."

"Hinata...I don't know what to do." Raphtalia doesn't want to get between Naruto and Hinata, but it doesn't change how she feels.

"I'm not angry...we'll figure this out." Hinata understood, more than anyone else, how Raphtalia felt. She's become dependent on Naruto, and it's too late to change that.

.


"He's already up?" After the beat down and trauma he went through, to be awake after only a few hours, either the Fallen Angels have great healers, or he's more durable than Naruto gave him credit for. "I'll admit it, I'm impressed."

One of Azazel's men took Naruto back to the Underworld, deep in Fallen Angel-controlled territory. It was one of their main cities, and from what Naruto was told, Azazel's primary place of residence. The man did say he'd keep a close eye on him.

Door by door, floor by floor, Naruto was escorted deep underground. He had already guessed what this place was.

A prison.

Naruto walked past many cells holding all kinds of unsavoury types. The kinds of people who would try to strangle anyone who got too close to the bars.

"After today, he's lucky to be alive," Kurama said. The man's actions doomed him to a place like this.

"I'm aware. Both Gaara and Yasaka wouldn't accept anything less than this." Naruto kept walking down the halls and stopped by one specific cell.

The cell door was to the left, but the room expanded to the right. Naruto sat down with his back against the wall, the cell to his right. While the person in the cell was against the same wall, but the cell was to his left.

"I know I say I'd fight you if you ever got bored. But you just woke up. Give it a few days till the rematch." Naruto joked; he received no answer.

Naruto peaked into the cell. He still couldn't see him. "Room's a bit dull. You could always ask Azazel for a skylight, ya'know. I'm sure he'd accommodate you." Naruto's efforts to break the ice had no success.

"Look, Vali, I'm..."

"I need a favour from you...Naruto."

"He called me over for that?" Well, ain't that something. "You hoping to knock off time for good behaviour or get the neck brace removed?" Around Vali's neck was one of Azazel's inventions, designed to inhibit the abilities of a Sacred Gear. He could still talk with Albion but try to use the Gear or go Balance Breaker, and Vali would be met with interruptions and excruciating pain. "Afraid you asked for the wrong guy. You need to talk to my superiors with that one."

"Naruto...please...I need your help."

Naruto stopped talking; he almost choked on his own spit. Did Vali just say 'please' and 'help'? Naruto thought he'd never see the day those two words would leave that guys mouth.

"Oh wow, this is serious." Naruto stopped his smart talk. "You wouldn't ask me of all people for help unless it was important. So lay it on me."

"There's someone...important to me. She's in danger."

"Important? Who is she, and who's threatening her?"

"My mother."

"What...? But Azazel said you cut all ties with your mother after..."

"I still know where she lives, and now he does too."

"Who?"

"He was there at the base, in the room just as you appeared. His name is Cao Cao."

"Never heard of him. What does he want with your mother."

"To use her to control me." Vali clenched his fists; he could only blame himself. His actions exposed the only person he loved to mortal danger, and now he's stuck in a cell, powerless to protect her. His only choice is...

Vali stood up from the wall and walked to the cell door. "I won't pretend things are suddenly good between us or if I have any right to ask this of you. This isn't about me, she...she doesn't deserve to suffer anymore."

Naruto walked to the cell door and faced Vali. "He looks different now and has a completely different air to him." Vali doesn't look so proud anymore. Still..."Did the seven who were killed deserve it any less than she does?"

Vali slumped a bit after Naruto's comment, but Vali did not look away despite that. His downcast eyes stayed fixed on Naruto. "That's on me, not her. Look I..." Vali pushed back against the call and punched the wall next to it. With his magic sealed away, the only outcome was a marked wall and a bloody hand. "Just help her. You can add a few hundred years to my sentence if that's the price. Just help her. I won't ask for anything else." Vali pleaded.

Who the hell is this guy, and where's the real Vali? Naruto thought back to all the other times he met and spoke with Vali. It's like he's a different person. He's asking for help, begging for someone else's sake, taking the fall and throwing away his pride to do it.

"He's changing." But into what was the question. Did defeat humble him? Is this the effect of the damage caused by Juggernaut Drive?

Or is it something else?

Naruto thought over Vali's request, but Naruto had already decided before pushing Vali. "Where is she." He'll keep her safe. Vali's right about one thing, this isn't about him; this is about an innocent mother who deserves peace.

.


A Few Minutes Later:


.

Vali lied down on his bed, poorer quality than the one he's used to, not that he cared. His mind weighed on more important things.

"I actually ask him for help. The same guy who put me in here, and I beg him to help me." And more shocking, Naruto agreed, even when there's no reason for him to. "Why him, why him and not Azazel, Albion?"

"I can't speak for Azazel, but I'm certain Naruto won't have any ulterior motives."

"Yeah...I think that too..." For all his secrets and the mystery around him, Naruto's an honest guy, that much Vali could tell.

Vali kept staring at the ceiling, thinking back on everything that's happened today. One thing kept repeating in his mind.

"If you measure your life by satisfying your desires, even if it causes wars, and death and destruction on others, just for your idea of fun. Why are you worth remembering, why do you deserve to use Albion's power...and what separates you from the likes of Rizevim?

Back then, Naruto's words gave him nothing but anger and distress, but those words now make him reflect on his journey, his actions, his choices.

CRUNCH!

Vali shot up from his bed, clutching his head in pain. He didn't show it to Naruto, but Vali's hurting. Ever since he's woken up these migraines, pulses of throbbing torture have been coming and going.

Whenever they do images, sights Vali has no memory of appear in his mind. It didn't take him long to figure it out. These weren't his memories but the fragments. Their lives and lingering emotions Vali could see and feel in his head. A side effect from being taken over by the Juggernaut Drive.

Vali didn't know if they were ever going to stop.

These images unnerved Vali. He saw their lives, their deaths, felt what they felt. It was haunting him. It was like they were him, or he was them...but no one else remembers them.

Their names have been forgotten. All they are and ever will be are the previous wielders who lost their lives to power.

And Vali's just the next in line...was he ever special? Or just another being thrown to the meat grinder.

"Albion...has the life I've lived accomplished anything? I love fighting...winning...getting stronger. Yet this is where I ended up. I always thought I was special because of what I am and who I survived. Yet...I feel nothing...I feel no satisfaction. Like everything I've done until now has been less than nothing." Before today, Vali felt absolute pride. Now, all that pride has become hollow. He's a shell of his former self, and the White Dragon Emperor didn't know if that was good or bad. "Am I worthy of your power Albion?"

"I cannot say. It won't be 'Are You' but 'Were You' will be the question. For I believe such a question can only be answered after your death."

"So all I need to do is hand myself in this room to get my answer..."

"This is not your place to die. But you can change how you live."

"I'm a Lucifer and the White Dragon Emperor. What else is there for me but to face the Red Dragon and indulge in my desires."

"I may be the one who seeks battle against my rival..." Albion's thoughts remembered something Naruto asked of him. "...It doesn't mean you must follow my will..." Albion said at the spur of the moment.

"Your fate is to battle Ddraig, and your host becomes a part of that fate."

"Then perhaps...break the chains of fate..."

Defy fate? Why was Albion saying such ridiculous things? "And do what?" Vali thought this many times in his cell. What should he do, who should he become.

CRUNCH!

"Fuck, there it goes again." He can't tell if it's getting worse.

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Naruto didn't waste time and returned to Urakyoto with all haste. He needed Yasaka's help. With the information Vali told him, Naruto asked, no pleaded for her help. Yasaka didn't want to give Vali any favours, but she agreed with Naruto's point of view; this isn't about him.

Working with a squad of Youkai, Naruto and the Youkai squad were transported to an unknown location. Vali got Naruto to write down exact coordinates, so he didn't know where on earth they were. It could be any country their standing in.

The scenery was lush green fields with calm wind and a small farming village. There somewhere north, the Youkai guessed. The closest house had four people, and they were all asleep. The building itself was a modern interpretation of a Stone House.

Naruto jumped up to the second window and peered through the window. He saw two adults asleep. The man he didn't know, but the woman...

"Looks just like his description." Around forty years old, black hair, and a compassionate face. "He could never forget you. Didn't say anything about the others, guess he doesn't know about them." Vali's mother must've remarried and was blessed with two children.

Her traumatic memories were wiped away; she no longer remembers anything about the supernatural or her first son Vali. The idea of a mother losing the memory of her child was not a good thought, but Vali had his reasons. She would be hunted down because of her past affiliation, like right now.

Naruto confirmed their identities, and the Youkai got to work. They would send the entire house with them in it to a new location where they'll be safe and hidden. Their memories will have to be altered, so they always thought they lived in their new location. It reminded Naruto of Hiruzen and how he didn't tell Naruto about his parents or of Kurama within him. To protect Naruto from those who would be after him because he's the son of the Fourth Hokage or for being Kurama's Jinchūriki.

He didn't like being in the dark then, and he doesn't like doing the same thing to another. This was Vali's choice; he asked of this, he alone had the right.

Naruto wondered if there was another option, but he couldn't see one. They can't place guards here twenty-four-seven. Even if they did, this Cao Cao guy and his cronies could roll right through them if they wanted to. Moving them is the only choice they have.

The Youkai finished their job, and in a flash of light, Vali's family's house was safely moved.

Naruto would call it a day, but then his senses flared up; they weren't alone. In a split second, he threw a kunai at a tree behind him. The kunai hit the bark, intentionally missing the target.

The one who Naruto noticed revealed himself. "Sharp senses, good reflexes and no hesitation, you continue to impress me." He clapped, applauding Naruto.

"I remember you. You were in the castle when I dropped the explosive. Who are you?" The guy just stood by the tree with not a hint of worry. He looked orange and see-through, like when Raphtalia contacted Yasaka.

He's not even here in person.

"You may call me Cao Cao."

"So that's him, huh," Vali said to be careful around him. "Here to avenge your defeat? We did take your castle."

"It wasn't my castle, so I bear you no grudge."

"Right, you ran at the first sign of trouble. The rest of your boys and girl turned tail too. And after running away, you come to talk to me. Were you waiting for me here this whole time?"

"Not you specifically, I just wondered if, after Vali's capture, would he try to do something for his mother. It seems he hasn't completely forgotten about her. But instead of escaping, he gets you to save her?"

"You were planning on using her against him."

"And now you are too. Oh, I'm not condemning you Naruto, it's the right idea. She's the last piece of humanity he has left, the only person he still cares about. The best way to control the White Dragon Emperor is through her."

"You could've taken her long before I got here. Why didn't you?"

"He used Juggernaut Drive, and he succumbed to it. How much of the same arrogant Vali still resides in that head of his? The ego's the first thing to go. Now he's your captive, and neither Yasaka nor Azazel would release him or give in to any of my demands just because I have Vali's mother." Cao Cao talked about Vali like he was a broken weapon. "Of course, I could've taken her, so you couldn't. But then I wouldn't get to indulge my curiosity." Cao Cao went with another angle.

"What is this to you? Entertainment or some sick joke?"

"The White Dragon Emperor still cares about his mother. A fatal weakness on his part, and now I get the boon of seeing you and your way of thinking." Cao Cao got to see Naruto in action. How he fights, some of the powers he possesses and the knowledge of Naruto being stronger than Vali, even when he uses Juggernaut Drive. But Cao Cao has not learned how Naruto thinks or his motivations.

There is still very little on Naruto. Understanding who he is as a person is just as crucial as determining his overall strength. "Using her, you can keep Vali on a short leash. If he doesn't serve you, then she pays the price. Or will you be more 'civil', and you'll continue to 'protect' her as long as he does what he's told? Vali's power would be yours to use no matter the method, as broken as it was."

"He doesn't know I saved Vali before the hatred completely took over." Naruto needs to keep that to himself. As long as Cao Cao doesn't know, he won't chase after his mother. "Not even close," Naruto said back, looking at Cao Cao with eyes of contempt. Cao Cao's way of thinking sickened Naruto. Kami, he wished that scumbag was right here so he could slug him across the jaw. "I'm here to make sure she doesn't get dragged into this mess."

"So Vali will show you gratitude and follow you willingly?"

"Wrong again. If Vali doesn't grow up and keeps causing problems because of his obsession for fighting, he can rot in prison to the end of his days for all I care. But his mother isn't a part of it. She survived Rizevim; she deserves some peace. And I won't let anyone use her. Not you, not me, not my comrades and friends, no one."

"You didn't take her to coerce Vali to fight for you or to tug at his heartstrings; make it look like it's his idea to stand with you. Then why help her? Why waste your time looking out for one powerless mother and her family who offer nothing in return?"

"The fact you ask why says a lot about the kind of guy you are." If they're not useful, then don't bother with them, even if they need help.

Naruto then took charge to ask some questions of his own. "So your friends...Scared Gear users, sword users...all human...you guys got a name? We've got Khaos Brigade, Old Satan Faction, how about your lot?"

"We're simply Heroes."

"Heroes?" He's serious, them, heroes? That's got to be a joke. "Like what, are you guys the Hero Faction of the Khaos Brigade?"

"Hero Faction...I like the ring to that."

"I wasn't giving you tips;" Oh great, they're going to start calling themselves that, aren't they. "What the hell are you trying to accomplish with this group? What's your motive?"

"Our goal is to fight for humanity and show the other races our power."

"What?" Did he just...

"A hero must destroy the evil creatures of this world. Did you not know that? That is what a hero is. The Devils, Angels, Fallen Angels, Youkai, Dragons, Gods, and all the other races; they're all the same. We will not bow down to those who will force us into servitude anymore."

"Then why the hell are you with the Khaos Brigade? The Old Satans want to remake the world in their ugly image; the others want war or something worse. Humanity doesn't exactly come out ahead in either scenario, you idiot!" What's this guy playing at? Does he even know or care about all the innocent humans that died in that castle. Why side with people who should naturally be his enemy if this is his stance. It then hit Naruto. 'Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer'. "Oh, I get it...for now, you're with them."

"It's a mutually beneficial partnership, and they'll serve their purpose."

Just like Shikamaru said, these guys aren't united. "Why bother with a group doomed to fall? What are your plans from here on out?"

"We're descendants of the great heroes of old. We will be the face of humanity, not any of the other races or the church. That is our goal."

"You call it a goal. I call it ambition." Naruto could see through the bullshit. "Face of humanity, my ass, all you want to do is kill those of other races as an excuse to showcase your power or justify your existence. The only thing you'll be the face of is the hatred everyone will have for humans after you've finished your mission." Not just for normal humans, but Sacred Gear users and sword wielders as well; it will be even worse for them. They're sought after by the Factions for their power. What happens after a large group of them start indiscriminately killing all non-humans. "Your ambition will cause so much damage and put many lives at risk. You want to protect humans, Cao Cao? Then stop this before it goes too far. You can still turn this around before you cross a line that can never be uncrossed."

"But you see, I need to cross that line. History is a great teacher. For significant progress to be made, it's not done with talks but with conflict. And we should know how good humanity is at starting conflicts." The list of human wars is staggering. "The other races look at humans as pets that need tending to, or they use humans to advance their own race. Not even the church stand for our kind; they serve Heaven, not humanity." Cao Cao then approached Naruto until only a couple of feet stood between them. "But that can change." Cao Cao offered his hand figuratively. "Power is what this world acknowledges the most. We will show the other races the might of humans; never again will we be lesser beings. You and your people can be a part of that. There's no reason to be subservient to the Youkai, not with your abilities."

Naruto saw Cao Cao for what he was, this honey speech his giving, preying on people's worst fears, playing the saviour or the messiah. A master manipulator. "You've had a lot of practice, haven't you," Naruto smirked; Cao Cao's words bounced off him. "Did you practice in a mirror all day? Or on all those kids who didn't have any other choice than to follow you to war?" Naruto remembered those two tin men; now he knows how they got involved. "Sorry, Cao Cao, but you're not the first who tried to achieve peace through terror and destruction." Nagato flashed before Naruto's eyes. "But he truly wanted peace for all. You, ha, you only want peace for yourself and the guys who follow you. Or maybe you only say that so you can use your power and feel good about it. So cut the crap."

Cao Cao was neither moved nor impressed by Naruto's words. The leader of the Hero Faction looked at the Shinobi with such disappointment...such wasted potential. "It's a real shame and such a waste, to see someone of your talent and power to have thrown his lot in with the Youkai. Even if you don't possess a Sacred Gear, I would've still accepted you into our ranks. Perhaps one day you'll see how wrong you are."

"You're the wrong one here...everything you're doing...and especially what it means to be a hero. A hero isn't a killer. A hero is a protector! So never call yourself one! Every time you do, you insult real ones!" Jiraiya, Minato, Hiruzen, Itachi, everyone that died trying to save the world during the Fourth Great Ninja War, and many more. "You're not born a hero. You become one. You don't get to call yourselves heroes and ride on the coattails of your ancestors." No one has the right to call themselves a hero when they haven't earned it.

Cao Cao didn't care for Naruto's rant all that much. But the more he speaks, the more Cao Cao learns about him. "Your ideals are set in stone, and you're a...person with established morals, even to your enemies former or otherwise; perhaps that is your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness, something to consider as we oppose one another." Yes, Cao Cao could see it. Naruto's friends give him strength but also leave him vulnerable, a weakness that can be exploited.

Cao Cao slowly stepped back, the image of him slowly disappeared.

"I'll stop you. I promise you that. I'm the last enemy your ever going to make." Naruto said just before Cao Cao vanished completely.

Naruto knew just what kind of man Cao Cao was. He's cunning, manipulative, above all else, dangerous. He's the kind of guy who can bring people into his ranks willing with speech alone, a silver tongue. Naruto couldn't believe it, but this world has spawned its own version of the Akatsuki.

Naruto can only hope they won't do as much damage as the original one did.

Or will they be even worse?

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Chapter 20: Price of Betrayal. Complete

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Vali:

Coming back to this chapter after returning from Norfolk, I spent a lot of time revising the Chapter because I was stumped on how I should end it; with Vali's character.

I had four outcomes. He escaped, died, was kidnapped by enemies, or captured by Naruto. I write a rough draft for all four just to help my decision.

I scrapped escape pretty early. It would've been the most disappointing to read, wouldn't have allied with previous chapters, and Naruto would've come off as incompetent if he failed to capture his primary target.

Kidnapped was next because it wouldn't work with Vali having the Hiraishin Mark on him. I wrote a small piece to see how arbitrary it would get.

This left two outcomes, Vali gets captured by Naruto or dies using Juggernaut Drive. Both could work, and I thought hard about which one I should go for, and I chose the former.

Looking back on Vali, both in cannon and my story, I wondered did he deserve to die? Was he some big villain?

Is Vali a stuck up prick; pretty much. Did he deserve everything that came to him in this chapter and the last? Oh yes. But I still didn't see him as some big villain, but a childish idiot. He was a symptom, not a cause, along for the ride that others start.

So I let him live, and I'll see about taking his character in another direction.

When it comes to villains, Cao Cao is a much bigger one. That guy makes Vali look like a schoolyard bully. I re-read Cao Cao and the stuff he did to his own followers; dude, not cool.

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Speaking of Cao Cao.

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When I went through the characters of DXD, I found Guan Yu, who goes by Guan Di in the novel. Which made we think...

We got descendants of Cao Cao, the top leader in the Three Kingdoms, Guan Yu, the God of War in the DXD verse...we have them two, but we don't have the third guy, we don't have him? The strongest man in the Three Kingdoms story.

The one you never pursue.

So I've added him to the Hero Faction, and he's looking for a decent challenge.

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Next: Chapter 21: Hurdle at the church

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Teaser: Kuroka and Xenovia learn the truth.

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