A/N: EDIT! Had a bit of a delay; that blasted RWBY finale crippled my inspiration, and my request docket is backed up like crazy.

As ever, review and feedback keep me motivated. Without them, I can't write a single world.

Looking forward to chatting with you all real soon~!

Sorry if this seems short, I've got one foot out the door while I polish this up.

Woke up and my arm was miraculously better. Don't trust it. Still gonna see the doctor to make sure I don't have a blood clot or something.

Finally got around to this. "Taking Fight" and "Wolf" might well need some more time...

...doesn't help that the latest chapters didn't exactly get a positive reception...

In any case, this chapter FOUGHT ME because it didn't want to be written; I could say more, but I'll let this chapter do the talking. No questions to answer here; we're leaping right into the thick of things from here on out. Remember, this story is going to be hitting a timeskip soon and from there, we're into the home stretch. That was always the plan.

As ever I don't own ANY references, quotes memes or themes. Not a wit, not a one.

Now prepare yourself, I did warn you this was coming...

"I don't understand. I'm so much stronger now Why did they have to die...? Was I not good enough? Not fast enough?

"People die, Naruto. That is the way of the world. Accept those deaths. Mourn them. And then."

"And then...?"

"Avenge them, my contractor. Sometimes that is all we can do."

~Salem.

Waking the Giant

"You are beaten."

Gaara stiffened as a spear of pure light brushed his throat.

And make no mistake, he was beaten. Complete and utter defeat. Humiliation incarnate. Wasted and gasping for air, he lay on his knees, lifting his chin in a desperate bid to prolong his life. Sand sloughed from his broken form like so much water. Try as he might to marshal it, his chakra wouldn't obey his command; he soon saw why. There was barely any left. He'd exhausted himself; burned his power down past mere embers. Only empty cinders remained, and those were unable to do anything. Nothing at all.

Still he refused to yield. "This isn't over!"

"It is." those dark blue eyes looked upon him with pity. "You need to yield. Now."

The weight of that gaze was like an ocean, ancient and unknowable, crushing him with each passing second. Deep within him, Shukaku stirred, further fanning the flames of his madness to a vicious degree. Just...give up? Submit to him? Yield and be brought to hell like a dog? Never! He'd sooner die!

"I don't need your mercy!" Glazed green eyes glared up at him, full of fire and fury. "Kill me!"

The crowd certainly seemed to agree; high above them they bayed for blood. Fools. His or Uzumaki's, they didn't seem to care. They craved violence, and violence would be had. An angry cry went up, followed by another then another, and another still, deafening him to all else. In the madness, the proctor was nowhere to be found...no, wait, he told a lie. There he was, sprawled out on the floor. He'd been knocked out by their last clash. It only incensed the crowd ever more:

"What're you waiting for!"

"Finish him already!"

"Kill! Kill! Kill!"

Naruto craned his neck up at the lot of them, lips pursed in mild scorn.

"The hell's gotten into them?" his scowl deepened as their voices rose, growing louder with each passing second.

Gaara found a spark of dark amusement in it all. This world thrived on violence. Anyone who thought otherwise was either a charlatan or a fool. The strong thrived. The weak perished. By that very logic one of them would die here today. There could be no other way. This was their fate. This was their destiny.

"Don't you see?" he grinned. "You're just like me. You always will be."

Blue eyes rounded on him and bled red. "I will never be like you."

Gaara grinned right back. "You already are, Uzumaki."

A boot slammed into his chin, knocking him out.

He never saw the shadow until it was too late.


(.0.0.0.)


Salem looked on with thinly veiled glee.

Her eyes began to glow.

"Its time."


(.0.0.0.)


A dagger slammed into Naruto's back.

Rather, it tried. To say that it failed spectacularly would've been an understatement; because the second -nay, the very moment!- that iron-wrought dagger neared his shoulder blades, it became so much slag in his killer's grasp. He heard his attacker recoiled with a pained cry long before he turned away from Gaara to face him.

"Really?" a red eye shone over his shoulder. "Did you think that would work?"

Kankuro grinned back at him. "Not really-

Naruto's fist cracked backward and brought the spear with it; only to reverse course at the last second. Rather than a fatal blow, he merely inflicted a debilitating one. Teeth sprayed into the air as his weapon bit into the face of his would-be killer slumped back with an oaken gurgle, spitting splinters. Wait. Wood? He realized his mistake a heartbeat later as the "corpse" lurched back to life. Blue eyes bulged. Limbs of timber clamped down around him with impossible strength, binding his arms to his sides.

A snarl tore out of him as he saw that "Kankuro" wasn't Kankuro at all.

"Pesky puppet!"

Blue eyes burned with living flame as his ribs creaked ominously.

Over the puppet's shoulder, he saw the Sand Siblings grab Gaara and bolt out the arena.

"Get back here!" Naruto's snarls became a roar of righteous outrage. "I'm not done with him!"

Somewhere in the distance, he heard an explosion. Someone screamed. Steel clashed against steel. His mind paid it no need. There was only anger. His arms twitched, muscles bulging as the puppet tightened its deadly grip upon. His head tilted back, and he spat blood. Red overtook blue as the whites of his eyes burned black. Power sang within him and he welcomed it, curling his hands into claws at his sides.

This wouldn't hold him. He'd suffered far worse under Salem's tutelage.

The pain was just that. Pain. A distraction. He pushed past it.

"LET ME GO!"

...and howled his fury to the heavens.

Red chakra burst to life, mingling with aura and magic for all of a moment. Kankuro's puppet wasn't destroyed. It evaporated

He dropped to a knee, clutching at his right side.

No one made a move to help him He soon saw why.

"What in the world?!"

While he'd fought for his life the world seemed to have gone mad around him; civilian turned against shinobi in the stands, while ninja slaughtered one another. Worse, he could see the bodies. Corpses lay sprawled out in many a seat; some had even been blown down into the arena itself. It was with some horror that he saw a flash of pink hair among the torn bodies...among others. Bodies he recognized. More than one.

"Sakura? Hinata? Kiba?" he croaked their names out, still in shock as neither of the trio moved. "C'mon, this is a joke...right...?"

A dull roar built in the back of his ears.

No.

No, no.

No, no, no!

Sand shinobi vaulted down from the stands to face him, even then his mind didn't quite register what was happening.

One of them drew a sword.

He stumbled back from them. "I...what? I don't understand...what's going on here?"

"What does it look like, boy?" a new voice cut through the rage like butter. "An invasion! Snap out of it. There will be time to mourn later!"

A woman clad in the darkest of black landed beside him. She was fire incarnate. That was the only description he could think to give her. One eye lay hidden behind an eyepatch; while the other burned into his with molten flames. Literally. He could see fire trailing outward from the edge of her iris like smoke, boiling away into the air as he looked on.

He whirled on her. "Who are...?"

"You may call me Cinder. I serve the same master as you. And you shouldn't tarry, boy. Go." She waved a hand. "I'll clear you a path."

That same gaze swung onto his attackers, causing a man to combust where he stood. Poor bastard slumped to his knees, shrieking as he tried to douse the inferno. It availed him naught. His arms flailed and the ravaging flames spread to them in turn, swallowing him whole. Within moments, only a charred corpse remained.

The invaders recoiled. "Demon! "one of them cried! "Monster! Abomination!"

"Such kind words." That lone golden eye narrowed. "Flattery will get you nowhere, I'm afraid."

Fire flicked from the fingers of a distorted Grimm arm, wickedly cruel with glee.

"Go." she hummed. "You have a fight to finish...and vengeance to claim."

Naruto dithered for all of a moment, stealing a glance backward.

His jaw clenched. Anger -hate!- sparked in his eyes.

Then he gave chase.


(.0.0.0.)


"The snake is mine!"

Orochimaru had heard many a battle cry in his day, but that? That took the cake. Still, how rude! They'd interrupted his monologue-

He'd only just begun to turn his head when a demon of the blackest hell walked right through his barrier.

Trailing flames, uncaring of her melted and pitted flesh, she smiled.

Her arms spread wide.

"Pray."


(.0.0.0.)


Naruto caught the Sand Siblings well into the treeline.

It wasn't difficult; for all their quick escape, Temari was far slower than he. Kankuro even moreso after the chakra he'd expended. Carrying Gaara between them only slowed them further; they hadn't even made it halfway to safety before he fell upon them. They heard him coming, of course. He wasn't subtle. Even on his best day he'd never felt the need to be stealthy. Now? Caught in the throes of rage, all the world a red blaze?

His passage uprooted trees.

Still they had the nerve to run from him. The gall!

"And where do you think you're going?!" the words tore out of him on a roar, warped behind the mask he'd donned once more. "Get over here!"

Naruto ripped one such oak free by the roots as he ran; then, without missing a beat, whirled and launched it at the Sand Siblings like a mighty javelin. Caught in midleap and with no Aura to protect them, they had no defenses. The tall one tried to pivot and bring her fan to bear at the last; oh yes, she tried to slash it down; but that meant dropping Gaara. She hesitated. That cost her dearly. Kankuro at least had the wherewithal to shield his wounded brother with his body rather than twist to the side like a weak coward. It still didn't save him.

They crashed out of the sky like a falling star; moments later, the awful sound of splintered bone reached his ears. One of them screamed. Their cries fell on deaf ears.

Too bad. He wasn't feeling very merciful at the moment. WHatever plan they had, whatever scheme they'd wrought, it ended now.

"Hey."

Temari shrank back at the sight of his masked visage. "Just leave us alone!"

"No can do." he thrust her aside to join Kankuro.

Then he loomed over Gaara. The boy gazed up at him through half-lidded eyses.

"Come on out." he glared down at the boy's stunned form. "I know you're in there...Shukaku. Lets settle this." A quick kick brought him back to reality. "The sooner I kick your ass, the sooner you stop tormenting Gaara, and the sooner I get my answers. Who did this! What do you know?! Tell me!" Another kick, a whine of pain from the redhead at his feet. "Or would you rather I just kill you? C'mon!" He kicked him again, determined to have his answers one way or another. "Wake!" Kick! "Up! Kick! "Already!"

At last, Gaara's mind and body could take no more. Something snapped.

And the beast came howling to the surface.

"FINALLY!

Sand sprang to life around Gaara in a great geyser; shrouding him in strength and plunging the world into shadow. He never felt the explosion. He did not see the invasion. He was already fast asleep, his mind driven out and under by the beast lurking within him. He saw none of it. Nothing at all.

But Shukaku saw.

He saw it all beheld the tiny ant below him and grinned, glut with hatred.

A low tremor shook the earth; it was a deep, throaty sound; one that had no business emerging from any throat.

"I'm finally out!" the demon threw his head back to the heavens and howled out his laughter, replete in triumph. "Now, then!" Just as quickly his head snapped down with a dark leer. "Showtime, brat! I'll teary you apart piece by piece!"

Empty threats. He'd heard -and felt!- far worse than this during his training.

Still, Shukaku had proven larger than he'd expected. Naruto looked up, up, and up some more. That was a big raccoon. At least, he assured it was a raccoon. Wait. That wasn't it. What was the word? Tanuki! He snapped his fingers. That's the one! Large or not, he'd finally found himself face to face with his target. And now that he had...

"No." Blank red eyes rose to regard him. "You won't. Sorry, ugly. I don't have time for you. I'm gonna be a bit...rough."

Naruto flicked through a quick set of seals, raised a thumb to his mouth and bit down.

Black blood sprayed into the air. A lone word was uttered.

Not even a single phrase.

"Come."

"Ha!" Shukaku boomed a laugh. "What's that supposed to doooooohmysagethatisadragon!"

One moment the One-Tails towered above the treeline, ready and willing to squash this annoying gnat beneath him. He was supreme. He was confident. Victory was his. There was just no way he could possibly defeat do anything to stop him now. That wasn't arrogance on his part; just simple truth. It would take thousands, no, tens of thousands to even make a dent in his hide. Not a chance in hell. Nope.

In the next, the world burned black and he found himself face with a giant Grimm Wyvern.

And atop its head sat its master.

Shukaku reared back, already inhaling deeply. "Air bullet-

He never stood a chance.

Powerful jaws clamped down upon his throat, tearing his jaw out as the sheer bulk of the beast bore him down to the ground. A terrible tail encircled his body, constricting like a vicious viper to crush his sandy hide. Cruel claws hooked into his false flesh and ripped, shredding his arms away, sundering what meager defenses he managed to offer. The dragon's gaping maw stretched wide, revealing a torrent of fire burning in the back of its throat. And in that moment?

Shukaku felt fear. "M-Mercy?"

Naruto's smile was just the wrong shade of vicious. "No."

With a mighty roar, the entire forest went up in a haze of crimson flame.

A/N: Did I actually kill people? Well. You'll just have to keep reading and find out won't ya?

If the quote didn't give it away; yeah, there's gonna be deaths in this story. I've been holding back, dragging my feet, but this was always the plan. Its also been proven that in sheer size, the basic Grimm Wyvern is absolutely HUGE. And this one's an Alpha. Thus? Even bigger! Furthermore, Cinder wouldn't be Cinder without a dramatic entrance. Nor would Salem.

As ever, reviews keeps me alive.

Soooooooo In the Immortal Words of Atlas...

...Review, Would You Kindly? It Keeps A Man Alive...

And of course, here are some previews for your care and time~!

References are references as always and I own absolutely nothiiiiing!

(Previews!) And a warning!

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

SPOILERS AHEAD!

YE BE WARNED!

"When will you learn, old man?" Salem hummed as she regrew her ruined body. "I. Cannot. Die."

The sword passed through her flesh and split her in twine.

Still smiling, she spread her arms wide.

"Care to try again?"


Everyone was dying. Shinobi and civilians alike.


"Please, I beg of you!" Temari threw herself at Naruto's feet. "Mercy! Don't kill Gaara!"


Silver eyes flashed.

Naruto winced but a little.

"If its any consolation...that hurt like hell."


...so that's how it is."

"This is for the good of the world."

A blond brow quirked. "Yours or mine? I'm happy just the way I am."

Silence was their sole response. When they didn't answer him, he shook his head and turned away.

"Look, whoever you are, I have no quarrel with you." a blue iris peaked over his shoulder. "Now get that stick outta your ass and leave me be or...

A golden meteor slammed into him from on high.

Breath burst from his lungs as the ground cratered underfoot. At the end of the day, Naruto was still mortal. And this? This was painful. Beyond painful. Weakened and tired from his earlier brawl, he wasn't quite quick enough to stop the next punch. Nor the third; nevertheless he fought on like a champion. He took the next blow on his chin, turned and caught their arm. He struck out and his fist slammed through a shadow.

"More and more of you!" he reared back and lashed out with a claw, raking five flowing furrows through the air. "Just leave me alone! I! Do not! Have time for this!"

Ice sprouted around his feet, entrapping him where he stood. Something snapped. Blue eyes burst into flame.

He threw back his head with a snarl. "ENOUGH!"

R&R~!