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The Last Shinto Kami

Chapter Twelve: Yomi

Cold rain poured from a blanket of dark clouds, pelting the landscape with a persistent dousing to create a gloomy hue exacerbated by the ignoble wails of an off-again-on-again wind gust. The trees around the village clearing shook when the wind came calling, pairing perfectly with the sound of a harsher rain going sideways. Nothing could escape the frigid water droplets flying sideways on the tail side of blustery squalls.

This dismal display went all too well with the air of helplessness that hung over an otherwise non-descript village in a miasmic cloak of mournful angst. Several buildings were in various states of disrepair. Some were even totally abandoned due to a lack of people around to live in them. From a glance, the settlement looked a few months away from being classified as a genuine ghost town.

These floundering few people living in the decrepit domain gathered together after their latest misfortune. Instead of creating a plan to get them out of their misery, the lost men and women inadvertently amplified their collective sorrows by coming together. And it got worse when the long-time leader of the village was abducted during the latest round of raids. Depression was the order of the day, a choking depression that had a hold of them all. The first voice to take command wasn't one packed with hope.

"What are we meant to do? This monster has been terrorizing our village for years. We tried waiting it out, hoping it'd go back to sleep, but it's not working! And now, we have lost Hamado-sama to the monster. It's hopeless! If we remain here, we are all doomed!" The bearded man spoke from his heart, painted with a faint hint of fear mongering as he reminded his neighbors of what they lost over the years. So was the reign of terror buried in their memories and hearts.

A feeble surge of subdued chatter built over seconds, growing as more people tried shouting their thoughts over their fellow men and women. It quickly devolved into nothing more than pointless yelling that did nothing but contribute to the surging panic. "We can't give up our homes! Where are we supposed to go? Our children can't travel on the road for days on hope alone! They won't survive the journey!"

"She's right! Where we think the nearest village is located is two days away! That's with us all walking on foot! And if it's raining like this, that goes from two days to four days minimum!" For the young and old, that level of travel was the same as a death sentence. No parent in their right mind would leave their sick child on the road to save themselves. If they made it somewhere new, their numbers would be a shell of what they are now. That was the grim reality they faced.

"What would you have us do? Stay here and die? We're farmers, not warriors! Haven't we lost enough blood to this damned beast? Must we give our lives too?" The sudden swell of passionate anger hit the poor souls with startling effectiveness. His heated fury drove the uneasy mob of misfortune into a gloomy period of deafening silence.

The shroud of silence continued strong until it was pierced by the uncontrollable sobbing of the village elder's wife, who was bawling into her hands. Though muffled in her wrinkled palms, the agony in her tears made many around the room cringe then glance away from the shaking woman. The combination of shame and sadness being too much for them.

One of the first to rally the people toward abandoning the village as a lost cause swallowed the lump in his throat. Being front and center as the potential widow broke down in front of them all, a respectable woman like this was too much for his guilt to handle. "I'm... I am sorry, but I can't take back my words, Yuriko-san. Hamado-sama looked after us all... but now I must look out for my family's best interests." The unspoken message of leaving her husband to his gruesome fate was left to hang in the air.

If they thought Yuriko's cries couldn't get any worse, then they were wrong. She became downright hysterical. Her cries were basically screams as she fell from her chair and onto the floor. A few younger women from the village tried to rush to her aid, but helping hands and soft words could soothe the woman's emotional pain.

"There is always a chance things will work out if you believe there is hope. Lose that belief, and you are lost." Naruto's calm voice swept over the crowd. His unannounced presence and newness to the people immediately gave his words weight they wouldn't have otherwise. It helped things that his voice had everyone turning to look at him as he stepped out of the rain and into the building.

There was still a seemingly endless amount of raindrops falling from the brim of his conical hat, but despite the shadow cast over his face, Naruto's smile was bright. In removing his hat and holding it in front of him, the golden-haired man not only showed his face. He displayed the hilt of his sword, which peeked out over his left shoulder.

Naruto wasn't surprised to see the desperate men and women latch onto the worn handle of his sword as a symbol of hope. Their question came out in a rushed verbal stumble more than a legitimate question. "Are you a warrior, stranger?"

His first instinct was to deny the claim as a juvenile dilution of his lifestyle, but for the sake of these struggling people, Naruto opted for nodding his head with his perpetual smile shining through. "I know how to use this sword when necessary. Is there any way I might be of assistance?"

The soul to step forward was a boy barely in his teens. His stern stare didn't mesh with the hairless baby face he currently possessed. Dark eyes locked with Naruto's blues before the young boy spoke with a firm nod. "My name is Toranaga. Please follow me; I can show you where the beast comes from." Upon being motioned to lead on, Toranaga adorned his cloak and took Naruto back into the torrential rain.

"In the south end of the village, there is a reserve of freshwater. It supplies our village with drinkable water from the nearby river tributary's runoff." The two men slipped past the village's wooden walls and into the untamed wilderness, vanishing with the thread of water being their guiding line.

Toranaga pushed forward physically and with his story, brushing aside a tree branch in his path. "For many generations, this water supply has been a blessing to our people. That is until recently... now the water is the monster's vessel to terrorize our home. I understand why many don't know what to do... no matter how frustrates me."

"Do you have any information on this creature? It doesn't matter how small it seems. Any information can be a great help with something like this. It doesn't matter if it's from you or secondhand. I truly do mean it when I say anything will help." Going into a fight blind was something he liked avoiding whenever possible. Any sort of plan was better than not having one at all, at least, in his personal opinion.

"Those stricken with grief tell stories about a green monster man with massive spiked armor and the features of the giant salamander. In all sense, it is the combination of monster and man. I must admit, I wish to see this beast for myself." Naruto took the information with a grain of salt, nodding as they slid down the slick slope of a mud hill after the ground suddenly shook, sending them stumbling forth.

'That felt like an earthquake... probably this monster.'

Some quick thinking on Naruto's part kept Toranaga from going headfirst into the mucky river's muddy waters when Naruto reached out and held the boy aloft by the scruff of his cloak. His golden eyes scoured both directions of the river before they returned to his guide. "Go back home, Toranaga. This is no place for you. I'll take care of the rest."

"I can help you! I'm not like the others... I know how to fight! And I am willing to defend my home!" Hoping to drive home his point, Toranaga produced a blade and held it steady. However, his hopes drained when Naruto shook his head definitively.

"Listen, you want to prove yourself, and I respect you for it. But you are young and have plenty to learn, Toranaga-san. So let me teach you this, if you want to lead, you must understand when you can achieve something without risking your own." Toranaga looked at him like those words made him swallow something sour, but Naruto wasn't one to be denied. "You lead your people best by being alive. If you want to prove yourself, go home and gather their strength. Make them believe again. Now go!"

After a tense second where a staredown occurred, Naruto watched and listened as the sulking teen went the way they came from. The blonde easily leveled out his breath and fell into the mud, sitting legs crossed with both hands linked.

"Oh, dearest Mother Earth, allow me a brief taste of your power... to experience the true extent of life. So that I may bask in the beauty of your true blessing to this world. With it, I am one with you. With it, I shall be honest and pure in my judgment. I promise to never abuse or misuse your trust. For my intentions are as pure as your belief in me. This is my vow to you as the God of Harmony and Life, Mother Earth."

With the completion of his ode, a cradle of orangish gold coloring formed slowly beneath Naruto's eyes. His golden eyes turned into swirling pools of rainbow colors that shifted and realigned at the end of every blink like a pane of kaleidoscope glass backlit against the vibrance of the sun.

Harmony Mode Synched! Mother Earth!

Naruto's purified presence brought a slow stop to the rain, becoming a soothing beacon. The previously drooping forest bloomed anew with verdant green as every plant in the forest stretched out to touch Naruto's harmonious presence. He had never felt more powerful... but he wasn't after this power to fight. He wanted this unrivaled connection with the planet to track down the monster lurking nearby. Through the blessing of Mother Earth, he saw everything and more. Much more than the ordinary set of eyes ever would. Naruto still remembered the first time he tried this and how the sensory overload almost made him puke.

Innocence and acceptance

These were the paths left by the forest spirits and their animals, two crucial and welcomed parts of any forest that told a story of how life would be without outside interference tampering with its crucial balance.

Determination and ambition

These spiritual feelings were left by humans. Perhaps their best traits, but not without consequence for the world around them. A problem for the future perhaps, but not Naruto's main concern for the time being.

Finally, Naruto found the very things he was searching the area for... a set of feelings so overwhelming to his heightened senses that he couldn't keep a reactionary frown from forming on his face.





He followed the trail of darkened desires upriver against the strong current that fueled the river. This was the path Naruto took, knowing at the end sat what he was searching. Naruto walked this path for many miles before he ended up standing at the precipice of a massive cavern, a wall of dark urges residing in the cave's natural shadows. There was no doubt about it. Whatever Naruto was looking for made its home here.

"Thank you for your help." With a final thank you left for the Earth's power, Naruto flared a formless wave of strength in challenge, using the last of his harmonic bond and letting his eyes bleed back to their natural golden color. If Naruto read the creature's emotions correctly, this kind of open opposition couldn't go unanswered. He wasn't left waiting for long before something emerged from the shadows. Half submerged in the river, Naruto only saw a spiky turtle's shell and two beady yellow eyes looking at him intelligently. But it was enough proof to confirm his suspicions.

The monster revealed a massive kappa, a giant hybrid that rose from the choppy waters with a carnivorous grin on full blast to show off its predatory leer. "Oh my... oh my, how long has it been since I've tasted true divinity in the air? A hundred years? Maybe a thousand? I was so very excited... until I saw you. Nothing but a runt playing god. Life is chock-full of disappointment. I'll have to eat a thousand to make this sadness disappear."

Naruto smiled in the face of the insult, allowing it to slide off his back. He showed grace beyond his years with his restraint. And he showed resoluteness in his countenance. The blonde held firm in the face of the monstrous opposition. "You will leave the village and its people alone. They have paid your price for long enough. Move on, and there will be peace."

The giant turtle-like beast warbled with the ferocity of his bellowing laughter. After slapping at the underside of his belly twice over, his looming grin turned into a cocky snarl. "I'm not going anywhere, runt. These miserable gnats are a staple cuisine in my diet. And if you don't show me some respect, you'll be next on the menu. Understand me, boy?"

Despite expecting this answer, Naruto couldn't help but sigh aloud. One of these days, he'd get through a situation like this without being drawn into a fight. "If you refuse to leave, I'll have to remove you. You can only blame yourself for what happens next."

"Look at the runt... he thinks he has a bite! How precious... here's my counteroffer... die!" A cleaving claw fell from the sky with destructive intent and tore the ground Naruto stood on asunder. The kappa's satisfaction morphed into annoyance at the sight of the tiny godling standing on his hand with arms crossed. That unbothered look on Naruto's face really pissed him off, the kappa decided.

The second webbed hand attempting to snatch Naruto met with the same lack of success as the first. With an acrobatic flourish, the son of Amaterasu flipped onto the back of the secondary hand. From here, he launched himself toward the beast's face for a crushing double-kick delivered straight to the beast's nasal bridge.

Apparently, the crushing impact of his strike wasn't as harmful as Naruto hoped it'd be... because he was summarily swatted out of the air by a wild swing from the turtle thing's flailing hand. Naruto hit the ground on his feet but was forced on the back foot as a blast of water slammed into his cross-armed guard. Feeling his forearms faltering against the pressure, he knew he needed to do something. His first move was to burst into flame, creating a cloud of steam around him when the hydro cannon met his flaming embodiment.

Already alert to what Naruto had in mind, the gluttonous kappa switched his tactics. He dropped his head into his shell and started whirling in place. Soon, another tower of propulsive water blasted from the head hole in his shell, but this time, the spinning sent his attack tearing out in all directions, cutting down fully matured trees like mere branches.

Seeing the devastation of the wide scale attack, Naruto was forced into further evasive action. Whether it meant ducking under one burst or jumping over the subsequent rotation, he worked inward until he got in near enough to grab the swiveling shell. Naruto managed to stop the spinning kappa. But at the cost of the skin ripped from his palm. The pained grimace felt as natural as the fist of fire he threw into the creature's shell, lighting its shadowy interior with a rapturous orange glow.

"Heh, that tickled a little bit, runt." When the obnoxiously confident creature reared his head again, he was smoking but unharmed from his brush with bonfire. This moment of surprise is all it took for the kappa to capture Naruto in a clenched fist. "Do you have anything to say before I use your bones as paste in my stew?"

Naruto's golden glare glimmered defiantly in silence. His words never came. Instead of wasting time, Naruto attacked with a sweeping sea of crackling golden flames. A gloomy haze distorted the air as a geyser of searing brilliance enshrouded the beast in a smoldering curtain of cauterizing fury that dispersed over the kappa's face in fingers of fire around the turtle's fat head. 'Gōka Mekkyaku' (Majestic Flame Destroyer)

Unlike his previous salvo, this time, Naruto's scorching shot scored. The fury from his flames brought the beast to a pained bellow that soared through the forest. Forced back, the turtle terror dropped Naruto and dove into the river to escape Naruto's righteous firestorm.

'Damn it! What is taking them so long? I'm tired of this thing healing itself in the river!' Naruto forced himself out of his thoughts when the bubbling river gave way to the scowling visage of the river-lurking demon.

"Enough with these games, you irritant! I'll erase you like the rest of your arrogant lineage! HRRRAAAAHH!" Blotches of darkness began forming over the shell's spikes as the beast drew on more of its internal powers. Chained tendrils of lightning jerked back and forth over the shell, passing through each spiky protrusion like conduits until razzling sparks filled the air.

"Charging your attack with the river would have been a smart move... if there was still a river around! You wouldn't happen to have another plan...?"

"Your stalling is pathetic! The river gone? What are you-" Hit with a chilling realization that he no longer felt the river around his legs, the kappa looked down at the suddenly empty riverbed. Now he found a few trickles of water... a far cry from the mighty river from minutes earlier. "What have you done!?"

"Isn't it wild what a few good clones and some earth manipulation can accomplish? It's time we finish this little dance of ours for good."

"No matter! I don't need the water to crush some little upstart! Now you will fry!" Straight off his shell, a single point of condensed voltage formed in the sky above the fuming kappa's head, glowing a pale purple as it surged and shrunk erratically. Then it bolted forward, tearing through the Earth on a single-minded plunge toward Naruto. To many, the lightning would be too fast to track, but for Naruto, it was crawling his way in slow motion.

It started with the limp flaps of his brown cloak whipping at the edges. The many spikes of Naruto's hair followed suit and flailed under the raging cylinder of violently circulating wind that howled around the Shinto Prince's steadfast form. A simple flick of his hand sent a crescent wind cutter careening straight at the lightning attack. The two diametrically opposed elements met, and immediately, the wind divided the deadly volley of voltage into two sputtering halves.

"That easy? Impossible! GAHCK!" Total surprise turned into mortal pain for the flabbergasted kappa creature when Naruto emerged from the fading white light with his grandfather's spear leading the charge. Amenonuhoko shone with pure power. The blade extended on Naruto's command, piercing the turtle's undershell like paper. Naruto's arm heaved upward with a primal growl, bifurcating the kappa like the earlier lightning attack. So sudden was the strike that the kappa's face was still stuck in the same surprised expression even as his body broke into a thick crimson mist.

"Hopefully, the villagers are still alive and in one piece..." Naruto mumbled, sighing as he slid his spear behind his back, where it vanished under the illusion of his mirage seal.

A Little Later...

"We can never thank you enough for all you have done for this village. If there is anything I can give you, please name it." The village elder Hamado's tune was dripping with gratitude, and if it weren't for Naruto's pleading, Hamado's head would be pinned to the ground in a show of thanks. He already tried dipping his head several times since Naruto returned him to his home.

Hearing the fanfare of a celebration muffled by distance, Naruto's otherworldly eyes glittered benevolently as a warm smile stretched across his content expression. "The continued freedom of you and your people is all I want. Continue providing a home for these men, women, and children... that is what I humbly ask of you, Hamado-san. If you can do that for me, our debt is settled."

"Your generosity will never be forgotten, Naruto-sama. But I have to agree with my husband. You need a proper reward for your service, and we have the perfect gift." Yuriko was a world away from the weeping widow Naruto encountered on his arrival. This version of her swept into the room with grace in every step. Her eyes fell to the rectangular box in her hands and then to her husband, who hurriedly greeted her.

Carefully taking the ornate box from his beloved, Hamado held the wooden container gently despite its sturdy appearance. Swiveling to face Naruto, he bowed and presented the box to his people's savior. "Please, on behalf of everyone here, take this as a symbol of our eternal gratitude."

Admittedly intrigued by the contents of the strange box, Naruto's brow rose as he regarded the married couple of many years. What were they planning? Unlocking the container with his thumb, he threw open the lid, expecting anything... but coming out surprised at what he found. "This... this can't be right..."

Seeing how he might be helpful to the hero, Hamado interjected himself into Naruto's reprieve with the hope of adding clarity to a confusing situation. "This relic has been passed down through my family since it came into the possession of my grandfather's grandfather. As a boy, I thought it was superstition and nothing more, but I see the same spark in this item that I see in you, my lord. Please, take this. It belongs with you."

"You can see what I am?" Naruto asked with no small amount of surprise.

"Yes, my lord. I come from a long line of seers... or that is what the ancestral journals claim. Admittedly, I haven't had the chance to use these gifts until today." Hamado murmured before shaking his head and bowing deferentially to his godly guest.

Naruto retrieved a half mask with a pale porcelain facade highlighted with two deep eye sockets with brows lowered to replicate a vengeful glower. He couldn't stop himself from pricking his finger on one of the dull horns jutting from the mask's forehead. "A shinigami's mask... this is unexpected."

The blonde fought off a shudder when he felt a spark of cold power wash over him with thousands of mashed whispers tickling his ears. "While it is true that I am one of the Shinto Gods, this does not belong to me. You should keep this somewhere safe as you have done for decades."

"I must refuse, my lord. This mask is now yours. Come, Yuriko. Let us leave our lord alone to do what he must." Before Naruto could protest otherwise, the rushed village advisor gently guided his wife out of the building and into the joyous celebration going on strong.

"Better that I take care of this sooner rather than later." Writing out a string of golden kanji in the air, a small pulse of raw energy sent the sunshine symbols through the room, sealing it with a barrier of energy from The Fade. "Time for you to come out of there, whoever you are."

Naruto set a hand over the mask and drew out the splinter of spectral power locked within the shinigami likeliness. The process didn't take long, but the transfer was intense enough to make a light sweat slide down his face before the room was bathed in an otherworldly light.

"Who has summoned me in such a crude-" A man with shaggy white hair appeared with the light. What he wanted to say stopped cold, allowing Naruto to see his almond-colored eyes widen. It was as if the purple-skinned man experienced a profound shock.

The sun's spawn didn't want to be rude and interrupt the recently summoned spirit of reaping, but after a full minute of silence, Naruto felt obligated to make sure everything was okay. If that required cutting off the frozen entity, then so be it. "Excuse me, are you alright?"

Shaken from his mental lapse by Naruto's probing inquiry, the shinigami returned to reality with a gravel-scraping sound of irritation in his short yet informative reply. "How would you like having thousands of years of history from a different dimension no less slammed into your head?"

Mindful of his behavior, Naruto took a cautionary step back and bowed his head apologetically but offered nothing in response. 'It sounds like he absorbs information from his other self? That's not too different from how my clones operate when I pump enough energy into them. Interesting...'

With a moment to gather his composure, the shinigami's face returned to the same stoic expression that exuded and struck fear in those unfortunate enough to cross his path. And it came with his sharp eyes leveling a hole through an unphased Naruto with his intense glare. "I have thousands of years from a different dimension in my head, but somehow, I don't know who you are..."

The threat levied wasn't lost on Naruto, but that didn't mean Naruto shied away from the accusation. Rather than balk, he smiled in the face of danger before he let a drip of his power bleed to the surface, causing his hair to catch fire and his eyes to burn like two golden sunspots lighting up. "My name is Naruto-Omikami, Son of Amaterasu-Omikami, new God of the Sun."

"Hmm, you are no liar, that much, I concede. My question is how...?"

"Kaa-chan carried me the way mortals do. She used what was left of her power before fading to keep our home safe. A few months after my birth, Lady Chaos visited Kaa-chan and saved me from the rest of our pantheon's fate. That is the simple gist of my story, shinigami-san." Seeing no reason or gain in lying to his fellow pantheon member, his story was short but filled with the truth.

The subsequent hum out of the reaper caused his sharp teeth to have a moment of exposure before his eyes narrowed dangerously. His growled warning certainly didn't pull any punches either. "You speak of me like I'm a shinigami and not the shinigami..."

A knowing shine filled Naruto's eyes, and then the smirk set on his quirked lips. This almost felt like a test, but an unnecessary one. Naruto knew plenty of his own pantheon. It was one of his favorite subjects for obvious reasons. "There's no need for deception, shinigami-san. I know our people don't have one lord of the dead. You belong to a whole stable of roaming spirits. Or at least, that is how it's supposed to be."

"Hah! Hahaha!" There was something wrong about hearing a shinigami laugh with his voice creaking like an old, rusty hinge... but that's what Naruto got from the shaking spirit's entertained rumbling. "Finally! I'm in the presence of someone with half a brain. You have impressed me, Naruto-dono."

"I have a question for you, if you don't mind, shinigami-san. Is it possible for you to lead me to Yomi? Or is that impossible?" The abrupt nature of his question took the remnants of the shinigami's chuckles and dumped a bucket of metaphorical ice water on it. What ease there was between the pair turned into a tight silence that originated from the white-haired soul reaper.

A frigid whisk of cold breath hissed through the shinigami's razor-like teeth in what Naruto hoped was the shinigami thinking about his request. Thankfully, he wasn't left in suspense for long. Naruto got a guarded answer rolled his way from a cautious reaper. "What is your interest in Yomi? God or not, Yomi is not a place for whimsical sightseeing."

"If I can be honest with you, this is all pretty spontaneous on my part." Naruto shook his head, trying to fend off any notion that he had nefarious intentions in his heart. It was time to put words behind his misleading ideas. "But the more I think about it, this is a beneficial idea for everyone. You wouldn't know this... however, the mortal land is plagued by corrupted spirits and demons. I've done my best to curtail their influence, but I am only one person."

"You want my assistance in your efforts." The hostility draining from the shinigami with a shoulder-dropping sigh felt like a win in Naruto's book. At the bare minimum, his reaper chat companion didn't shoot the proposition down immediately. That meant Naruto still had a chance. A chance to talk the reaper to his side. Help like that would be a tremendous boon to his future efforts.

Nodding his head, Naruto was overly careful with the words he picked and how he said them. This was a critical moment. The last thing Naruto wanted was to mess it up with a careless slip. "Yes! I'd appreciate your help. If you return to Yomi, there should be plenty of weaker beings to help you gain more power. It will take years, but when you get strong enough, I want you to return to Earth and keep the peace while searching for any other shinigami who survived the dimensional migration."

The shinigami's placid expression crept into a smirk that fit the few words he gave Naruto's fledgling plan. How could he not be at least intrigued by the idea? "You plan on rebuilding our forces..."

"After everything my predecessors went through to find a home, I can't think of anything more fitting than returning to our homeland and building something from the ashes. And I refuse to let our name die out. Whether I do it alone or with help is the question. Not if I succeed, because I will make this happen."

No one said anything.

Then the shinigami smiled and made his choice.

"Follow me, Naruto-sama."

Yomi's Entrance

It was a painless three-day trip, but they made it no worse for wear. There they stood at Yomotsu Hirasaka.

"Wait here a moment. I will open the path." Naruto nodded silently, leaving the ghastly reaper free to step forward with his prayer beads clutched at his side. It all started with a chant, but Naruto tuned the words out as he focused on the cave waiting for them.

This cave had the same general appearance as any other. A simple stone structure with a gentle slope descending into a cavern excavated by time and the elements. If Naruto didn't know better, he would've assumed this cave was the same as any other and moved on without giving it a second thought.

These preliminary observations became gross misconceptions when Naruto opened himself to more than what his eyes saw. By extending his senses, he was hit with primordial power tinted with darkness. Such was its potency that the blonde god felt goosebumps forming on his forearms despite it being the middle of the day. Yomi was an imposing well of vast power that Naruto was honestly hesitant to dive into.

'Fear of the unknown is natural. How I respond to my fears is what matters.' This lesson was one imparted in him by the many mentors he was fortunate enough to have. And now, it provided Naruto with a steadied resolve to keep going.

"There... now it's safe to enter. Follow me..." Naruto's golden orbs followed the shinigami before his feet did, but he quickly fell in line, walking a step behind his guide. Together, they vanished amidst the darkened ambiance of the mysterious realm of the Shinto Underworld, where the feelings of unease got heavier as they enveloped him whole.

A few minutes of walking and silence had the barren rock corridors turning into something Naruto thought inconceivable. Because there he stood at the edge of a forest with blossom trees reaching to the bottom of the swirling shadow veil above them. Despite not seeing any leaves shed, there was an eternal rain of fluttering blossom petals falling. "This is wild... absolutely incredible! I never imagined anything like this. I always thought I'd see something more painful."

The other reaction couldn't be more different from Naruto's shock. The shinigami took a deep breath and basked in his long-awaited return home. It felt right. It felt perfect. That said, Naruto's honest stupor did make the formidable reaper smirk a tad. "Yomi has several biomes within the realm, but if you're looking for fire and brimstone, go deeper into Yomi's harsher levels. You'll find all the misery you could want, Naruto-sama."

Naruto laughed with less restraint than even he expected, but then again, Naruto hadn't counted on his companion cracking a joke now of all times. "Go on, take care of your business. I want to have a look around. You know, explore a little. Make the most of this opportunity and all that."

Naruto felt the shinigami's objections brewing under the surface. But he was grateful that the reaper kept them to himself. "I won't stop you if that's what you want. But be careful, Naruto-sama. Even one's senses can lie to them here in Yomi." With his advice rendered, the reaper vanished further into the darkness, leaving the young prince alone.

Catching one of the petals as it floated out of the darkness overhead, Naruto watched with morbid fascination as the black blossom melted into an iron sand that numbed his hand. When shaking his hand failed to return the feeling, he felt his face contort with some worry.

"How about this?" A flash of foreign light tore through Yomi's gloom as a blistering fire cloaked Naruto's hand like a glove. In an instant, the feeling returned to his numb hand. "Problem solved. Now then, how about a look around, Naruto?"

Doing the scientific process of going off in a random direction, the first thing to catch his attention was a pool of pale red water slightly off the path. Naturally, Naruto had to look into the pool, and upon bending over, he saw the water below went much further than he first thought. This time, he learned not to reach in and touch the odd blood-like water.


Leaping out of his skin from the jump scare, Naruto flinched as a screaming gray skull rose from the depths like a bat out of hell, nearly missing Naruto's face by less than an inch before it disappeared into the blackness looming above, leaving only the frigid tingle from its trail to lick at Naruto's flesh. The blonde put a shaky hand over his rapidly beating heart and sighed deeply. 'Fuck me! This place is going to take some getting used to...'

A living soul here? How precious!

I want his body; it's my key out of here.

Help me, please save me! My child needs me!

You're alone like the rest of us. No one here cares nor wants you.

Under siege from all sides by emotions that weren't his, Naruto bore the weight of the phantom whispers with gritted teeth as they got louder and more frequent. The voices weren't the problem... it was foreign emotions trying to warp his own. This attempt at controlling him moved Naruto until he couldn't take it any longer and let loose a pulsing spark of pure light. "Buzz off!"

Naruto felt the solitude of relief as a herd of panicked screeches and pain hollers crescendoed around him, then faded into nothing as his light chased away the bothersome spectators trying to manipulate him. Peace and quiet was his, if only for a moment. It was a good lesson to learn... that one moment of weakness here could cost him everything if he wasn't careful.

'Come to me, golden child. I wish to see your brilliance for myself, and see the sun's son in the flesh. Yes, come to me, golden child.' Two things were immediately different from this voice and the others. First, this voice was more than a whisper. And second, it was coming from within his mind and not from the outside.

'Who are you, and what do you want with me?'

'Your answers will come, but only if you come to see me, golden child. I await your visit with open arms.' Naruto knew the sudden dropping of the near cave wall with a jarring smash was tied directly with whoever was reaching out to him through the darkness and depression. It was confirmed when a portal of all things sprung to life in the exposed space.

Against Naruto's better judgment, he stepped through the murky portal.

...and was sent stumbling out the other end at the base of a lofty mountain. Crouching down, Naruto jumped and cleared the mountain's peak. Flipping over himself midair, Naruto dropped into the open basin, landing on the rocky isle in the middle, an island surrounded on all sides by a lava lake. The surprised godling watched a bubble of the volcano's stew pop with a hiss as the light from the lava cast his face in a harsh glow. "I like my share of fire and heat... but this is a little extreme."

"Perhaps I am biased, but I'm inclined to agree with you. My husband could get creative when he thought he was wronged." He was going to blame the atmosphere of Yomi for playing games with his usually sharp senses. The unexpected response turned Naruto toward the center of the floating island. Right into a flinch when he saw the gruesome visual awaiting him.

It was a woman with red eyes that glittered like fresh blood. Her black hair was a greasy mess of knots. But that was nothing compared to her flesh and how it was rotting away in several different places. The plethora included spots like her cheeks, where one of her sharp cheekbones broke the decomposing skin, exposing the sinew-dampened bone. It really popped out around the framing of malnourished purple patches and raw red spots of flaying skin that had maggots writhing in the open, festering wounds on her body.

The macabre woman's appearance was so gore-tastic that Naruto nearly overlooked the assortment of golden chains digging into her body. Two chains ate into her legs, forcing her to kneel. Meanwhile, both of her withering, emaciated arms were yanked out at her sides and held there by a pair of chains wrapped around her thin limbs and buried deep into the rocky ground to rob her of any mobility.

This was more than punishment.

This was more than imprisonment.

This was gratuitous torture.

Naruto couldn't recall the last time something left him at a genuine loss for words and thoughts. The young god didn't care if this was Yomi... this kind of cruelty was wrong. It was evil for the sake of evil. He understood how unbearably painful the heat from the lava must have felt against this woman's gaping wounds. "What... who could be this evil to another person?" He asked, sickened by the inhumane nightmare he stumbled upon.

It was unbelievable she had the willpower left to muster a smile, but that's what the woman did in response to Naruto's kindly babbled words. How long had it been since anyone showed her an ounce of concern? "It was the same person who previously wielded the spear on your back, child."

Realization struck Naruto like a lightning bolt from the heavens. He wanted to deny it, but there was no running from it. The ramifications of the horrible truth made Naruto sick to his stomach. His pale face cemented in an expression of horror as he gasped with pupils shaking in his golden eyes. "Izanami...? Grandmother...?"

"Your eyes don't deceive you. This is what the great Izanami-no-Mikoto has been reduced to. Isn't it pathetic? Are you here to spit on me? Scorn me like my husband and children before you...?"

Izanami's dead voice paused long enough for her to tilt her head aside like a lifeless doll. But because of how unhealthy she looked, the movement made it seem like her head would snap right off her shoulders if she went too far. "Then again... Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Susanoo weren't my children. That bastard made them when I was trapped down here, but I hoped they'd accept me. How disappointing."

Naruto fell to his knees with a bland thump. When he tried reaching out to put a hand against Izanami's cheek, he made it within an inch of his goal before the darkness lashed at him. The tendril cut into his hand, making Naruto hiss in pain and pull his back out of necessity.

A forlorn expression of sadness sunk into the captive woman's face as she saw the darkness rebuff Naruto's tentative advances. "It appears you fear the dark, my golden child."

Outright ignoring the vagary of riddles, the determined man soldiered ahead to address the more pressing issue on his mind. He felt so strongly that his growled demand came with a sweeping wave of outrage for Izanami's sake. "How could they do this to you? It's... it's not right! They had no right!"

The best way to describe the laugh from Izanami was soul curdling, a grating noise that felt like nails dragging down the rocks under their feet. Naruto thought his ears were about to bleed, but he refused to turn his burning gaze away from the rightfully bitter goddess. "For the longest, my husband and his children forgot me. They ignored my existence. It's a sad truth, but it's easier to forget about a problem than fix it, my child. The last time I saw my beloved husband, he decided to punish me again. Losing my freedom... he called it a fitting sentence for the monster that stole his perfect wife. And here I've been ever since."

"No! Absolutely not! I refuse to let you suffer! Everyone else can forget if they want! I'll fix this fucking bullshit myself!" The volcano's smoldering air crackled. And not from the lava malding around them. It came from the embers of anger pouring off a livid Naruto, who rose to his feet with Amenonuhoko gripped tightly at his side. With a scream and a single slash, he used his grandfather's legacy to shatter his grandmother's bondage.

Throwing the spear aside, he fell forward and caught the weakened woman before she hit the ground. Holding onto her for dear life, Naruto hugged her for everything he was worth. His face buried into the rotten flesh at the crook of her neck, hiding the warm tears he shed. "I'm sorry it took me so long... grandmother."

His act of companionship made the darkness wreathed around Izanami go feral, causing Naruto unimaginable pain, but he refused to release the embrace. He didn't so much as whimper as he endured the pain with a blinding smile stuck to his face. His tears consisted purely of happiness and nothing else.

Melting into her grandson's embrace, she soaked up the affection she lacked for what felt like an eternity. Izanami cried for the first time in centuries. And it was all thanks to Naruto tearing through her emotional safeguards with action over empty words. Her trembling fingers fluttered through his golden and black hair before she put her face in his wild locks. 'Your soul is too pure for this horrible world, Naru-chan. Thank you, my precious golden child.'

After what felt like an hour of nothing but a heartfelt embrace, Naruto gently pulled away but kept his hands lightly on her shoulders. His smile lit up the darkness as he made a solemn vow. "I don't care that you're technically not my grandmother. I'm here now, and you'll never be alone again. I promise on everything I love."

"That goes both ways, Narut-chan." Needing more personal contact she'd been deprived of forever, Izanami hurriedly pulled Naruto into another bone-crushing hug, which he was more than happy to reciprocate. "I want to hear about your life... every little detail."

A genuine belly laugh erupted from Naruto as the joyful tears dried up. He had to admit the warmth of his grandmother's embrace left him feeling like a little kid again. "You got it, but first, let me heal you. Please, grandmother... I don't want to see you in pain."

"I wish you could, dear. But myself and any restorative techniques no longer mix thanks to my former husband's meddling." Her claim left Naruto with a frown, but the hesitation didn't last. There was an idea floating in his head that put a smile on his face.

"I need you to trust me."

"I already do, my golden child." The speed of her answer filled Naruto with an unshakable pride and removed any lingering doubts about what he was about to try and pull off.

'Shadows of Yomi, hear my command! Without life, there is no death... without light, there is no darkness... I, who commands both, demand your obedience! Your strength is mine, and those who resist will be shown the fury of an exploding star! Your power is mine!'

What was required to sync with the gifts of Mother Earth was a night and day difference from what he needed to do here in Yomi. Compassion meant little here... power is what they respected. Naruto had to show he had the strength to be feared. Lucky for him, as the child of Amaterasu and a training fanatic, he had power in droves.

The feeling he got from dipping into Mother Earth was steady, but this felt like smoke dancing around just out of his reach, waiting for any chance to smother him. With a mute growl, he forced the essence of Yomi into himself. He gasped at the surge of strength and quickly balanced it with a firm hand until he crafted the perfect ratio.

Harmony Mode Synched! Shadows of Yomi!

Wisps of primal darkness leaked from the corners of his mouth and out his nostrils as Naruto's body underwent some harsh changes. The black at the tips became his hair's sole color. His expressive eyes took a devilish twist as they went a bloody red with no pupils there to break the pools of sanguineous red. Naruto's once-tan skin faded to a deathly pale shade that highlighted a network of purple veins while he grinned savagely with a mouthful of sharper-than-normal teeth.

The reality-staining shadows of Yomi wafted off Naruto's shoulders, dripping from his fingertips in strings, which went secondary to the horn sticking out of his forehead. Blood poured down Naruto's face from the horn's emergence, but it appeared Naruto didn't feel any pain.

His face twisted into something resembling a demented grin when he looked at the surprise on his grandmother's decaying face. "Keep still. I have an idea I want to try." A spec of darkness formed a purple focal point in the crux of his palm. The strange phenomenon grew into a massive ball of rotating shadows with silent screaming faces swimming across the sphere's radius.

Still expanding its domain, the ball of black and purple swallowed both grandchild and grandparent in a dome of impenetrable darkness. It carried past the island proper and out into the lava. Naruto's show of power had the whole volcano shaking violently as geysers of lava rose around the sphere in molten pillars of fiery death.

Bubbling boils built on the dome's surface, swelling with fluctuating intensity, but somehow, they held their integrity by a thread. There was a flash of red through the sphere before it shattered like glass, revealing a reverted Naruto and Izanami once more.

A fully healed Izanami.

The ghoulish remnants of a forgotten goddess were gone... replaced with the immaculate beauty of divine perfection. Her lustrous black hair fell to the back of her shoulders in curling rolls with two red highlights in her bangs and a sakura blossom hair clip, keeping the hair out of her right eye. Izanami's skin went from a flaying, putrid mess to a light peach color that didn't have a blemish in sight. And her bloody eyes became a much smoother, more inviting wine color that deepened the depths of her gentle gaze over a perfectly dotted beauty mark under her right eye.

Racked with disbelief, she gazed at her hands and saw her fingernails painted in alternating shades of black and purple. They were finely trimmed, a lifetime away from the chipped, yellowing claws she had before Naruto visited Yomi. The tears threatened to return, but not before she stomped them down in favor of a radiant smile.

She went to express her deepest gratitude when Naruto doubled over without warning. His coughing fit sent a splatter of godly blood over the rocky floor at his feet. Izanami moved to assist, but then Naruto lifted his head and grinned at her with teeth stained by his blood in a resolute display of determination. "Told you I was going to help. No darkness was going to stop me..."

Izanami saw the change. She saw how the darkness that once blitzed away from her grandson drifted toward him instead. This was the difference between accepting darkness rather than rejecting it. And she couldn't be prouder of her golden child.

"I never doubted you for a second. Come with me; there is something I want you to see."

"And that is where things stand with me and my life. So, what do you think? I'd say it's been a wild ride thus far." Naruto mused after taking a much-needed breath. He never thought himself capable of talking about himself for more than two hours, but his grandmother's genuine delight in hearing every seemingly unimportant detail helped him through it.

What Izanami said to him next came easy because they were some of the first things that came to mind after hearing Naruto's elaborate tale of triumphs and tribulations. "Your willingness to help others doesn't surprise me, Naru-chan, not after what you did for me. I'm proud of you, and despite our past differences, I know your mother would be too,"

The all-powerful goddess treated her grandson to a smile when he bashfully brushed the back of his head. "But I am worried for you. What I remember of the Greeks who preceded these Olympians is rampant paranoia. This Zeus seems insecure in his power... along with being a paranoid bastard. Please be careful with them. I don't want to see you get hurt, Naru-chan."

Naruto's carefree smile melted away into a neutral look that showed how seriously he took the advice Izanami offered. He knew his grandmother was coming from a good place, but he didn't plan on stopping. "You might be correct, grandmother. Still, I won't let the fear of being hurt stop me from doing what I think is right. That is not the kind of person I want to be."

He met the stare from her wine-colored eyes with nothing but determination. The test lasted a few moments before the raven-haired matron of Yomi softened her stance. "If that's your wish, I won't stand in your way. You'll have my full support. No matter what path you end up taking. Good or bad."

"That means a lot to me..." Turning his head, Naruto peered out at an infinite void of darkness that loomed opposite the cliff he and his grandmother were sitting on the edge of. There was something strangely soothing about looking into the endless nothing. "So this is the place? The one you told me about on the walk here?"

Unlike Naruto, who saw nothing in the darkness, when Izanami looked out at the vast chasm, she saw a vision stuck in her head for hundreds of years. And realizing she was free to finally chase this dream filled her heart with joy. "Yes, this is it. This is where I want to make my base of power. He tried taking it from me by sealing me in that damned volcano, but no more. This will be the palace from which I rule Yomi."

An impressed whistle twirled off Naruto's lips as he absorbed the scale of his grandmother's ambitions. Then again, he supposed he also tended to dream big. "Sounds like a lot of work... even for a goddess. I'm happy to help. It'll be fun to spend more time with you, grandmother."

Gently squeezing Naruto's shoulder, Izanami uttered a polite denial through a motherly smile. All she could do was hope she didn't offend him. "I would love to have you here with me, Naruto. But I have to do this on my own." The angst left her body with a sigh when Naruto nodded with understanding.

"I understand completely; then I'll entrust Yomi to you, grandmother. I look forward to the day I can visit and see what you have built." Getting back on his feet, he stretched out his stiff back with an audible pop. A groan came out at the end, and when Naruto moved to leave, Izanami stopped his progress by grabbing his wrist.

"Hold on, Naru-chan. I have something for you. A parting gift, if you will..."

Totally caught flat-footed by this, Naruto parroted what was said to him somewhat stupidly from his lack of understanding. "A gift...?"

The confusion Naruto showed actually helped Izanami do what she planned without interruption. Because it kept him still long enough for her to submerge her hand in his chest through a swirling shadowy wormhole. She ignored how he grimaced from the indescribable feeling of having her hand touching his soul. With one pull, Izanami's hand returned with a sleeping dragon baby the size of a lion cub.

Just created, the beast was coated in armor-like ebony scales that glimmered with a sleek splendor. An unbroken line of small spikes rose along the dragon's spine, including a pair of backward jutting horns on the back of its skull. The crimson underbelly only made the blackout pitch of its scales more striking. Because its wings and tail were folded around itself, Naruto couldn't accurately say how large they were... but based on the impressive size of the main body, Naruto was willing to bet they'd also be considerable.

As a baby, it was beautiful, but when it hit adulthood, Naruto had a feeling this beast would be a true terror.

Meanwhile, Izanami gazed at the hatchling. There was an undoubted pride in her achievement. Despite being inactive for centuries, Izanami was still a creation goddess, and this snoring creature was proof of that title. For all he'd done, she found it fitting that the first use of her powers was for Naruto's direct benefit.

Naruto wasn't ashamed to admit the sudden appearance of the dragon left his jaw dropped. He struggled to find his words before mustering something somewhat coherent. "What...? How did you...? A dragon?"

"Don't forget, Naru-chan. I am a goddess of creation. This beautiful creature was forged from your soul. Deities usually align themselves with a species of animal, but that is not good enough for my grandson. You and this dragon are connected forever, in life and death. It goes beyond any measly symbolic relationship. All he needs is a name..." The dragon stirred from his coil, lifting his head with a groggy rumble.

Naruto stared earnestly at the dragon, and when the black beast opened its own red eyes, a name came to Naruto as he saw the reflection of himself in the dragon's eyes. Once voiced, that name created a bond nothing could sever. "Ancalagon..."

The dragon tried roaring boastfully over his name, but it came out more like a chirp, which left Naruto smiling as the flying reptile clumsily fluttered over to him with unpracticed beats of its sweeping wings.

"A fine name..." Izanami uttered with a smile similar to that of her grandson when Ancalagon landed on Naruto's shoulder, making the god stumble at the crash landing. "Now you two go... spread your wings and grow together. When we meet again, Yomi will be brought to order. That's my promise, Naru-chan."


Writer's Note II: Here we are with another chapter. More of Naruto's Shinto Adventures for your enjoyment. Family and a companion for our main character... not a bad visit to the homeland. In the next chapter, we're back in Greece with some trouble in paradise.

If you didn't read the Writer's Note at the start of the chapter, please do that. It's my personal method of keeping track of my favorite stories with the alerts from Fanfiction on the fritz.

In other news, I'm thinking of a new story.

Tier Ones (High Interest): Third Shinobi World War Timeline, High School DxD, and Game Of Thrones During Aegon's Conquest.

Tier Twos (Medium Interest): Elden Ring (Waiting for DLC), Fairy Tail Post Timeskip, Witcher, and Star Wars: Rebels.

That's what I'm thinking. See everyone next time. Ciao.