Well, this is the last chapter of the story. Thank you so much for all your reviews; I really enjoyed them.
Have fun with the last, extra-long chapter – I haven't split it into two parts because several people have remarked that my chapters are too short.
What Might Be – Chapter 5
He has concealed himself as one of the women tending to the chancellor. Walking through the grand hallways of the chancellor's private home, he marvels about the lavishly decorated walls and ceiling.
His spying has never led him into the chancellor's private rooms before. Sunlight is glinting on golden decorations and huge paintings, but even the chancellor's abode has suffered during the war. Everything looks old; there are blank, pock-like marks where paint and gold is missing, and the metal has lost all of its luster. Nothing from paintings to furniture looks younger than fifty years.
This is the first time in fifteen years that he has purposely left the boy's – the young man's, the general's – side. But he can travel much faster than a general with an escort of twenty men, now that he has regained his strength. If he wants to do anything to help, there is no time to lose.
Finally, he arrives at the chancellor's chambers. They consist of a huge master bedroom with adjoined bathroom, both in the same grand but run-down style as the rest of the mansion. A big bed with many pillows and blankets takes up a corner of the bedroom, and at first, he doesn't even see the sleeping chancellor against the linen.
When he finally gains sight of the man, he almost flinches in sympathy. The chancellor's pallor is waxen with thumbnail-big red spots, and his muscles are trembling. His sweat stinks sourly, metallic of death and decay. That is no normal sickness. He can smell the poison in the air. The acrid tang feels almost exactly the deadly liquid Anko used to dip her special kunai into. Sadly, he has never asked her about the antidote.
From his looks, the chancellor won't survive the next day, and he probably will not wake up until he dies. But the chancellor needs to nominate a successor; internal upheaval in such dire times would be fatal to Sun.
Well, if he wanted to, he could… with a little bit of henge and…
But that would run counter to anything he has done so far. So far, he has only ever made sure that the boy doesn't die by the hands of attackers from behind. That those too cowardly to confront the young man openly do not succeed. He has never fought the general's battles. And he will not start now.
But that doesn't mean he can't try and help an old, dying man.
There are several other nurses and doctors around, and the doors are constantly opening and closing. Everyone looks very worried, the physicians pale with the knowledge they can't do anything for Amaterasu's incarnation.
Staying undetected in such ruckus will be hard, but he thinks he can do it. A carefully cast genjutsu later, and everyone looking at the chancellor only sees what they already have seen so far: a sickly, pale, old man sleeping fitfully in his bed.
Carefully, he nears the chancellor, and nobody takes notice of him.
Excellent. All the practice on concealment jutsus for the past fifteen years hasn't been for naught then.
Looking the thin, frail body up and down, he tries to decide where to start. It's a pity that he has never properly learned how to do medical jutsus; all he knows comes from watching Sakura tend to other people. And as he doesn't have a Sharingan unlike someone else he knew, watching doesn't help him much in regard to learning new techniques. Well, he will have to do his best.
But where to start? Chakra control has never been one of his strongest points…
Slowly, he tries to feel for the chancellor's energy, and what he finds is not very reassuring. His chakra is sputtering and flickering like a dying candle, always threatening to give out. Should he take the risk and…
Sakura never mentioned anything about not sharing his chakra with someone, but that might be because the idea is so stupid and goes against so many medical principles that she's never thought about it.
Well, it's just about the only thing he can do; he lacks knowledge and precision control for anything else. And, judging by the decaying, metallic scent of the poison, it's not as if he could make the situation any worse. Without his help, the chancellor will certainly die.
Sighing, he gathers a cold, sweaty, wrinkled hand into his own. The fingers are stiff and cramped, with swollen joints that have lost much of their agility. A very weak pulse is fluttering against his skin, signs of a heart laboring fruitlessly against subtle death. The nurses and doctors don't really take notice of what he is doing. How is he supposed to start their chakra transfer?
Aligning their fingers so that their palms are facing each other, he quickly realizes the different sizes of their hands. He is in a woman's body, so no wonder that his hands are much smaller than the chancellor's ones. That way, their tenketsu points will never touch.
Suddenly, he's got an idea. A quick henge later, and a second chancellor is kneeling next to the first one. His respect for the old man grows exponentially because he can feel the stiffness of age in his joints and bones. It is part of the burden the chancellor has to carry every day. And the genjutsu still hides him and what he is doing.
He smirks. Now, their chakra openings should be exactly in the same places. Pressing the chancellor's limp palm against his, he gradually lets chakra build in his hand, hoping that somehow it will be absorbed.
But it doesn't seem to work that way. The beast within his stomach growls. Their palms grow hotter and hotter by the minute, but it doesn't feel like the old man has gotten any of his chakra. What is he doing wrong?
When he finally rips his hand away, he can see small blisters on his whole palm. The old man has similar blisters, but in the center of those blisters, there's an unharmed spot. Is that a sign that the man's chakra openings are absorbing at least some of the energy?
Almost jumping from joy, he continues, trying to focus his chakra even more so that it can flow directly into the chancellor's tenketsu points. Dimly, he realizes that he should be glad that everyone has forgotten about chakra use because that way, he doesn't have to split his concentration between holding up the genjutsu and channeling chakra. The transfer takes up almost his entire mind. If they were trying to dispel his genjutsu, he would be in serious trouble.
Their palms pressed against each other grow uncomfortably hot again, but not so much that it leaves damage. He doesn't know how long he keeps it up; he never feels any drain on his chakra, and the old man doesn't look any better, either. His breathing is still shallow, and his heartbeat too quick. Only the beast's growling has become louder.
To really make a difference, he probably would have to transfer chakra along the torso, but that is also where he can wreak the most damage should he do something wrong. And overloading an old man's chakra channels is much too easy, especially as they never have been used consciously.
To avoid that dilemma, he tries the other hand. He thinks he's slowly getting the hang of it as this time, he doesn't burn the old man at all.
It is hard focusing chakra when he uses so little that he almost doesn't feel it. His respect for Sakura grows. But that doesn't help him. He is still looking for a way to save the man, but he gradually comes to the realization that he can't stop the poison. He can only strengthen the man's chakra that the poison is eating away.
And that task is like filling water into a jug that has a hole in its bottom. Futile. Is that why the beast is growling?
"Do not trouble yourself, my Lady Amaterasu. I know I am going to die today."
Sharply, he looks up at the chancellor, who has opened his eyes. Those dark orbs are sunk deep into his face, and his wrinkled skin folds limply over pronounced bones. His gaze is unfocused, but the chancellor is undeniably awake. How lucid is he?
He bows as much as he can without letting go of the chancellor's hand. "Your Excellency. I am not Amaterasu. I am very sorry that I cannot heal you. But I hope I can give you enough strength to name a successor so that this land will not drown in war."
The chancellor's dry lips crack when he smiles. "But you are sharing Amaterasu's Fire of Life with me, so you must have been blessed by her. Thank you so much for giving me this chance. Would you be so kind to tell someone to go and inform the council? I will not let your gift go to waste."
Only through the way the chancellor never looks at him directly, he realizes that the chancellor can't see him. The poison must have affected his eyes first, but apparently not his mind. He is glad for this blessing.
"Your Excellency, do not talk so much. I will give you as much energy as you can handle, and then, I will call in the council. You must conserve your strength."
"My Lady Amaterasu is too kind do me."
He almost sighs at the old man's insistence on his divine origin, but he doesn't correct him anymore. He merely concentrates on keeping as tight a focus on his chakra as possible, studying the old mans skin color every few minutes.
His waxen pallor is slowly taking on a rosier flush, and the tremors grow easier. The smell of death though has grown more potent, gaining a more pungent, charred odor. And the beast's growl tapers off to a low, desperate whine.
A small twitch in the old man's hand reminds him that the chancellor is still awake. The man feebly tries to draw away, his skin color quite healthy by now.
"Thank you, Lady Amaterasu, but I don't think I can take any more of your Fire. I am merely mortal, and I do not think mortals are made for carrying your essence."
The small muscles around the old man's eyes are tightened in pain, making the wrinkles there much more prominent. He doesn't know whether that is a good sign or a bad one, but he knows he will have to stop sometime. He cannot keep filling up the chancellor's dying life energy forever, and he doesn't want to force anything onto the old man.
Slowly, he cuts the chakra flow off and lets the chancellor's hand go. "I am sorry for hurting you. That was not intention. Rest now while I call the council together."
"Yes, Lady Amaterasu."
He almost cringes at the honorable title the chancellor has bestowed upon him; he is no god, and if he had god-like powers none of that would have happened. But that is not important right now.
Quickly, he changes his henge back into the young woman he has entered the room as and gradually lifts the genjutsu. To cover up the small hitch between illusion and reality, he grabs the nearest nurse by her arm, and calls excitedly.
"Look, look, your Excellency is awake, and he has demanded to talk to the council!"
The whole room is staring at them, and that is the moment when the last of the genjutsu dissolves. As all attention is on him, nobody realizes the strange jump in reality when the original replaces the illusion once again. Then he is pushed away by several doctors, who all crowd around the chancellor's bed.
Shaking his head slightly, he goes for the council members himself as everyone seems too amazed at the chancellor's sudden return to consciousness. The beast has become completely quiet.
The chancellor's bedroom has been turned into even more of an assembly room than it had been before. Ten of the twelve council members are standing in a half-circle around the chancellor's bed, several servants trying to make everyone comfortable, and a doctor is checking his patient very thoroughly. He is still in his disguise as female nurse and is holding the doctor's tray.
It takes most of his will power not to smile at the doctor's obvious bafflement, but he knows now is not the time to laugh. The pungent odor of sickness and decay has grown far stronger, and he wonders how the others can't smell it.
"Doctor, that is enough," sounds the cranky voice of the chancellor, "despite how well I look, I know that my time has come. Now, be good and let me talk to my council; I do not want to waste this chance by letting you take up all my time."
Admonished, the doctor bows deeply and retreats sulkingly into a corner of the room. "As you wish, your Excellency."
All council members wear their formal attire, even their animal masks. While he had been informing the council, the chancellor had been dressed in his golden robes and propped up with a few pillows at his back. The man is breathing heavily, but despite his physical hardships, he looks serene although his face is very flushed.
Everyone is waiting for him to talk, and he doesn't let them wait for a long time. With a surprisingly strong voice, the chancellor opens the meeting in all bluntness. "The illness in my veins has stolen my sight. Is everyone present?"
Tiger steps forth although the chancellor can't see him. "Everyone but Councilors Bird and Dog, your Excellency. Both of them have been negotiating at our borders, and they thought it crucial not to leave Wind and Spirit ambassadors alone. Before your unfortunate illness, you have demanded for General Minamoto; he is on his way to help secure Soleil. He should arrive within the next day."
"But Serpent is here?"
"His negotiations with Metal have failed. He has returned yesterday afternoon."
Serpent takes a small step forward and bows. "I am here, your Excellency."
The chancellor nods into the direction his voice comes from. "Good. Lady Amaterasu has graciously given me the strength to talk to you one last time. Lady Amaterasu told me to name Her next vessel so that Her country might finally find peace."
The chancellor breaks off, his formerly intense flush turning an even deeper shade of red. His color makes the doctor and him in his borrowed nurse body worry. It doesn't look healthy at all, and it seems to pain the chancellor quite a bit. Nonetheless, he keeps talking.
"There have been very few incidents when the next chancellor has not been chosen from the ranks of council members."
To his horror, he sees small, bluish-reddish flames oozing out of the chancellor's pores. And judging by the gasps, he isn't the only one to see that phenomena. The charred smell in the room is growing stronger. Is that the chakra he has given to the chancellor?
With horrible effort, the chancellor forgoes all lengthy ceremonies and forces out between clenched teeth: "I hereby call upon General Akira Minamoto!"
The chancellor abruptly cuts off with a scream as the flames cover almost his entire body, drowning out the councilors' uproar on the unexpected nomination. Why is the chakra burning his body? Hasn't it already been absorbed?
He watches in horror how the chakra he has lent the old man bursts forth in a single blaze, consuming flesh like candle wax. It is so bright that he almost can't look at the chancellor's emaciated frame on the bed, and black plumes of acrid smoke clog his nose.
In a last defying gesture, the burning scheme convulses, its voice screeching void of all human traces. "Serve… Her… as you… Lady Amaterasu!"
That final, ear-piercing wail cuts off all conversation. Everyone watches in horror as the body collapses, the flames gradually dying with a haunted flicker. It is silent for a long time, and from far away, he hears a low keening.
On the bed, there are the charred remainders of a golden robe, a sheet, several blankets, and beneath them all, a human body. A few councilors and the doctor look sick. The acrimonious, black smoke is suffocating the room in a grey twilight that is made even darker by the former blaze.
Now he knows why Sakura has never said anything about transferring chakra that way. He cannot rip his gaze away from blackened skin and clawing hands frozen in agonizing pain. The keening grows louder.
In front of his eyes, the old man is still burning with bluish-reddish flames of chakra, the afterimage of the arching body having burned itself deep into his retina.
He doesn't listen. The keening has reached an almost unbearable pitch.
A hand shakes his arm, relieving him of his tray. Abruptly, the keening cuts off. Oh, Kirina is the name of the girl he has copied. From far, he can see the doctor touching him, but he doesn't feel it.
"Get her out of the room," he hears a voice call, but it pales next to the chancellor's last scream. He had only wanted to help…
Much later, he feels arms that are wrapped around him, rocking him slowly. And he realizes that he is crying.
Amused, Councilor Bird watches the new chancellor argue with his soldiers. All the curious onlookers who are trying to get a glimpse of their new head of state have been pushed back into a half-circle, but they still hear every word.
"But I have to go there alone! It's important!"
"But your security is even more important, Chancellor. I cannot let you go into a dark alley alone, even if you have been living there during your childhood."
Raking his black hair with both hands, the chancellor finally sighs. "Fine. Two of you can come with me, but keep at least ten feet away."
Colonel Suzuka, commander of the chancellor's personal bodyguard, exchanges an irritated glance with Bird. Bird merely shakes his head pityingly. "Go on. You know how stubborn he is. Hope and pray his luck as Golden General has extended to the Golden Chancellor."
Suzuka grumbles. "I'm not being paid for hoping and praying. Yamanachi, Yoshimaru, follow the chancellor and make sure he comes out alive."
The chancellor's smile could lighten the deepest night as bright as day, but Suzuka doesn't seem impressed. "I swear, if you pull such a stunt again, Akira, I'll resign as your bodyguard!"
Still smiling, the chancellor vanishes into the alley, completely ignoring the gaping crowds that have gathered outside the small area soldiers have sealed off.
Word about the miraculous inauguration of Chancellor Minamoto has already spread; every village knows by now that the chancellor's reign has been blessed by Lady Amaterasu herself.
Bird shakes his head. What he would have given to have been there… From what Serpent and Ox have told him, Amaterasu must have taken residence within the late chancellor's body, consuming it with Her godly Fire in order to call upon the next chancellor. Not even Hare and Tiger have made any move to doubt the legitimacy of Chancellor Minamoto's inauguration.
A few minutes later, the chancellor emerges once again from the alley, a frown on his face. Colonel Suzuka calms down almost immediately upon seeing his charge unharmed, and Bird has to stifle a laugh. The colonel acts like a mother with child.
In his hands, the chancellor is holding something, glancing at it every now and then. Finally, he shows it to Suzuka. "Can you read that?"
Studying the paper more closely, the colonel shakes his head. "Nope. To me, this scrawl is completely illegible."
Taking a step closer, he looks over the chancellor's shoulder. The commander was right; whoever wrote this must not have given any thoughts to neatness. But… something in the way strokes have been left out so methodically seems familiar to him.
"May I take a closer look?"
Wordlessly, the chancellor hands him the paper. Something does not seem quite right with the way the characters are painted; their proportions look off and unfinished, almost as if…
Turning the paper upside down, he briefly glares at the colonel and the chancellor, who both look away with embarrassment. Now, there is quite a bit more method to the mad scrawl, but he still cannot read it.
At least he recognizes the style of writing and knows who can. "That looks like one of the older ninja writings Dragon has shown me. He likes studying ancient artifacts; perhaps you should show it to him."
The colonel expresses his doubt. "Ancient ninja writings? This piece of paper isn't even a month old."
Bird shrugs. "You can't read it, I can't read it, the chancellor can't read it. Why not ninja writings?"
"Perhaps because all ninja died out 100 years ago, if they even existed in the first place?"
An amused chancellor interrupts them. "Councilor, colonel, no need to start arguing here in front of all people. When we are back in Soleil, I will show the paper to Dragon as you have suggested. Perhaps he can make it out. But for now, I have finished what I came here for, so we can return to the main plaza. I have a speech to make, after all."
With those words, Chancellor Minamoto turns towards the cheering crowd, councilor and colonel following a respectful step behind. It is going to be a long day.
A month later, a two-page report from Councilor Dragon wanders across the chancellor's desk.
Your Excellency, it reads.
Councilor Bird was indeed correct to suspect the note attached to be a form of ninja shorthand. As the document does not seem to be the original, I can only give you a gross estimation of its age based on the dialect it is written in. My guess is three centuries, give or take fifty years. Similar ninja messages have been found in Fire and Wind, occasionally in Cloud and Rock, too. The earliest representatives of this kind of shorthand date back almost 400 years, and slightly modified styles had been used for almost three centuries afterwards.
Contrary to popular belief, ninjas are not fictitious. The reason that so little is known about them is that they inhabited only very few villages, where they largely kept to themselves. Occasionally, they hired themselves out for missions, but they kept their secrets within their walls.
With the invention of higher technology, especially guns and tanks, they were split into two groups: those that endorsed the new weapons, and those who clung to the old ways. Nobody knows why, but one day, approximately 100 – 150 years ago, a fierce war broke out between the two factions. Many died during those years, and the survivors scattered to the four winds. They were never heard of again.
Most of their knowledge vanished together with them. There are only very few translations of their shorthand into common tongue, so I was forced to give my best guess at several occasions.
Here is what the letter approximately says.
Greetings infantile dimwit, (probably opening phrase along the meaning Greetings to you)
You not tell me become highest Sun (reference to noon? Chancellor?) not there. Will not see you again if well. Your dream (literally: 'hallucinations while sleeping') has felt now reality. My dream still working but you help greatly. (literally: 'give much aid')
Congratulations. Take your care (perhaps: 'Use your abilities') and turn the greatest glowing highest Sun again to our lands, see ever?
A coming lack of sun,
Your Excellency, I give you my sincerest apologies for my lack of ability. With more samples to work with, or the original, I could perhaps give you a more accurate translation. But as things are, this is the best I can do.
Dragon of Sun Council
With a frown on his face, the chancellor finishes the report. That had been an interesting history lesson, but not much more. He doesn't know what to make of that strange translation. Was that letter a child's joke?
Sighing, the chancellor puts the report aside. He has more important duties to fulfill than chasing after a ghost from his childhood. Like keeping peace at his borders, for example, or receiving the next Wind dignitary.
When he is honest with himself, he hadn't really expected to find the man again. He hadn't even been sure whether the man really had existed. Who knows what the imagination of a lively child can create out of a well-crafted statue.
The paper left in the place the figure had been sitting in had briefly let him dwell in the past, but now it is time to move on. After all, the promise he had give to the man (his imaginary friend?) so many years ago comes first. Soon, he forgets about the report that has been buried beneath countless other files and papers.
A month later, after one of his office aids cleaned his desk, said report lands on top of a stack once again. Not remembering the folder, the chancellor briefly looks at Dragon's neat calligraphy. He almost doesn't bother reading it until a small, scrawled note attached to the paper catches his eyes. He is almost a hundred percent sure that it hadn't been sent with the original message. The writing looks unpracticed, but at least it is still legible and not in any foreign language or shorthand.
Morons altogether! Should have known you can't read properly. Boy, tell that Dragon guy that his translation isn't worth the paper it's written on. Well, it sure gave me a good laugh, but here's what the note really says:
Sorry I can't be there for you to tell me you've become chancellor. And if everything goes well, you won't see me again. Well, how do you feel now that your dream's become reality?
Me, I'm still working on my dream, but you've helped me a great deal already. Thanks for that! Take care of yourself, and become the greatest Golden Chancellor this country has ever seen!
Your future Shadow of Sun,
Smiling, the chancellor reads the text a few times. So he had not imagined that the figure everyone had thought to be a statue was alive. He is glad that the half-starved man that had been such a quiet part of his childhood has finally found the will to live again. He just wonders where he is now – and who wrote that second translation.
Undetected by humans and technology, a shadow watches the chancellor read.
The shadow smiles. While helping that boy achieve his wish, his own dream of becoming kage has finally come within reach.
But, as things go, nothing turns out as planned. Instead of being head of a village, he has found a more literal interpretation of 'kage'. And instead of being associated with Fire, he will become the first Sun shadow.
The beast within his stomach growls. The future certainly is going to be interesting.
Ok, first for all those who wanted Naruto and Akira to meet: I hope you aren't too disappointed, but for this story, my focus was on showing how Naruto gradually found his purpose in life again. Ok, it also was an experiment to see whether I could pull off the creation of a whole new world with its own history (well, as much of a new world as you can make in fanfictions without going completely AU).
But I never intended for them to meet in the first place because that would have given Akira (and with him, Sun implicitly, too) too much power in that ninja-free world. They would have started relying on Naruto's super-human abilities, and that never is a good thing. Neither for the storyline (why should Sun make any efforts to grow when they have someone who can do anything they want for them?) nor for the story itself (I think that god-like characters who can do anything and don't have any flaws except brooding too much over past mistakes are boring).
So, now you have my reasons for ending the story this way. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did while writing it. Until the next one!