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Inheritance Book Two

Chapter Two

The Crow's Eye


"So," Naruto called out over the rush of wind past his ears. "Who's the target?"

Jiraiya glanced back, eyes hard. "Akatsuki hit squad. Here to take out a Kiri arms dealer with a price on his head in a few other countries. Kiri can't publicly show support to a criminal with their own shinobi, no matter how much they buy from them, so they've hired us under the table to protect him."

Naruto frowned. "Akatsuki have hit squads?"

Outside of the most notorious figures, Jiraiya had been frustratingly tight-lipped about the inner workings of the organisation set on capturing him. He knew of the shinobi at the top—of those, Jiraiya had given him a frightening amount.

"The nine focal members have been doing what they can, but the scale of what the Akatsuki intend to do needs greater numbers. They've been employing a huge number of missing-nin to collect on lesser bounties and to serve as foot soldiers. But, the more they rely on these, the more weaknesses there are in their security. We aren't here to just stop the assassination, our own personal mission is to take the hit-squad captive and interrogate."

Naruto nodded, his own face hard, matching his sensei's. This was a part of Jiraiya's role as Konoha's spymaster—at least it had been. Information in the shinobi world was not easily given up, and was the most crucial weapon in their arsenal.

That didn't change how much his sensei hated what he had to do, no matter his experience in the matter. The man's short temper, even compared to usual since Konoha had fallen, suddenly made an awful lot of sense.

They came to a halt on the edges of a clearing nearly an hour later, just as dusk was beginning to take hold, obscuring vision even further than the thin curtain of ever present Mizu no Kuni mist had earlier on. In the murk, Naruto could make out the dancing flames of a campfire, and the coppery tang of blood in the air.

Too late.

They didn't need to get any closer to know that, but Jiraiya signaled for Naruto to follow him into the clearing regardless. Their real target, after all, could still be close—or even still there, if they were feeling especially overconfident. He supressed his own chakra—not an easy feat given how much of it he could bring to bear now—and followed Jiraiya into the clearing following their usual procedure.

Immediately his eyes widened, as their target stopped suppressing their own chakra—or, in fact, chakras—and a dense wave of power and killing intent washed over the clearing that two years ago would have buckled his knees.

Instead, he was able to dodge the chakra laced spear that lanced at him out of the mist, neatly sidestepping the attack as it shot into the ground beside him.

"Eh, Itachi-san, are you sure we can't kill this one?" The voice seemed to come from every direction, ringing out around the trees surrounding them, though it seemed to come from a male on the younger side.

"I would advise against it, Deidara. That is the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune—Uzumaki Naruto."

Itachi emerged from the mist before them without warning, swathed in the distinctive black and red cloak of the Akatsuki, crimson eyes spinning. Unlike the last time they'd met, the cloak was already unbuttoned, ready to allow Itachi full freedom of movement, as though fully prepared for full scale battle against Jiraiya and his apprentice.

Naruto, though, knew better, and the bubble of anxiety at potentially facing a pair of S-ranked shinobi lessened. Itachi was, and had always been, loyal to Konoha, and was Jiraiya's main contact within Akatsuki.

"Ahh for shame—that gormless expression would have made for a spectacular central element within my next glorious artwork. No matter. His legs will do instead—he doesn't need those, does he, Itachi?"

Itachi shrugged nonchalantly. "It would save us a chase when we eventually come to claim him."

"How right you are!" The man, Deidara, laughed wildly, stepping out of the mist himself. He wore a cloak that matched Itachi's, with a mess of long blond hair that covered his eyes, and a larger than usual shinobi tool pouch at his hip.

Naruto chewed the inside of his cheek as he pondered what he knew of the man. Deidara was S-ranked like Itachi, but was not quite on the same level as the Uchiha. A famed Iwa terrorist that had disappeared nearly five years ago after wreaking havoc across multiple countries before re-emerging as one of Akatsuki's nine.

He formed a handseal, and grinned wildly at the former leaf shinobi before him. "What a privileged position you're in—to witness my art at its most magnificent! Now, please try and live, it would be a pain to explain that we have to wait another for years for your beast to reform—Katsu!"

Naruto grimaced as he watched his clone remember too late—just as he had—that Deidara's specialty was explosive ninjutsu. The strange white spear the man had hurled fizzed and glowed brilliant white before suddenly exploding violently, sending earth and chunks of splintered tree away in every direction.

Deidara cackled with his eyes wide and manic, stretching out his arms wide before him. "Magnificent! Tainted only by a poor subject."

"And a good thing, too," Itachi said, a hint of rebuke tinting his tone. "Unless you desired the task of explaining to our leader why he must delay our plans to allow the Kyuubi to reform following its hosts' death at your hands, Deidara?"

The man's face twisted petulantly beneath his scratched out Iwa headband, and he muttered and swore harshly under his breath. Naruto was struck by the familiarity of the conversation—it was exactly how he and Sasuke had interacted before he had graduated.

Before Mizuki.

It told him a lot, all in a few short seconds, about the organisation he was being hunted by. They were all S-ranked shinobi, sure. But there were levels within even at that dizzying height. Unhinged though he appeared, Deidara knew well and good that he could not win a fight against Uchiha Itachi.

The question was, where did these two rank amongst the rest of the Akatsuki? How high did the levels go—how powerful would he have to become to match them? To survive?

If you would but submit, it would be trivial, boy.

Naruto rolled his eyes at the deep rumble that reverberated around his mind. Quiet, you. If I wanted sweet nothings whispered into my ear from someone whose breath smelt like cat piss, I'd ask Jiraiya to hook me up at one of his 'establishments'.

The fox chuckled, and his presence faded once again to the back of Naruto's mind, but the damage had already been done. He attempted to concentrate his entire attention at the shinobi below, only to realise the Uchiha's eyes were already locked directly upon his own.

"Why don't you come on down, Naruto-san," he said placidly. "You are not our target here, today."

His heart raced, and he glanced towards Jiraiya, who nodded in assent. Swallowing, he tried to leap down beside his sensei. Only, when he did, he jumped only into a vast, black abyss of nothing. He floated there in void for seconds, or perhaps ours, before he felt ground beneath his feet.

Blood-red something seeped down from the edges of wherever he was like ooze, forming a crimson horizon lit by a pale full moon.

Genjutsu.

It was impossible for this to be anything else, but no matter how Naruto pulsed or manipulated his chakra as Jiraiya had taught, it would not so much as waver.

"My genjutsu are not so easily broken, Naruto-san," came Itachi's voice from behind. "I have to wonder, is this really all Yondaime-sama's son has to offer after two years?"

He spun to face the voice, on to be met by a flurry of crows flying in every direction and fading into nothing.

"You're chakra tells me you are far more powerful than you were, at least in body. But your eyes tell me how much weaker you've become in spirit. Is Danzou's little insurrection really all takes to break the spirit of Uzumaki Naruto, the man who would become Hokage?"

"My spirit isn't broken, asshole!" he bit back, but there was a hesitation there, one he hadn't anticipated before he'd spoken.

This time the crows gathered in front of him, and formed into the shadow of Itachi himself. "Jiraiya is not the only one who watches, Naruto-san. Not the only one who plans for the future. Things are worse than even he believes."

Itachi faded, and the whole world spun and dissolved, and when it reformed, Naruto sailed above tree tops like an eagle, watching events pass below. Leaf-bearing, black-clad shinobi swept across the Elemental Nations on strings, killing and being killed in return, bathing the lands in sharingan-red.

At the end of the strings, Danzou, lone eye wide with hunger as he surveyed his conquest.

"He will not stop," Itachi's voice came again, solemn. "Not until every head is bowed in subservience to him, or else removed from the shoulders that once bore them. But it is not only him."

They flew even further, until he saw another puppet master and his strings. This figure was bathed in shadow, his eyes equally hungry as eight titanic beasts raged across the earth below, devastating everything in their path. Screams and demonic howls echoed all around, penetrating right to Naruto's very core. Between the rampaging creatures, nine black and red cloaked figures raced, dealing nearly as much death as the tailed beasts.

"Both forces once believed they were doing what they did for good. For the benefit of the world, and for the benefit of the people. For peace. But for both, the pursuit of power and the price of attaining it, has warped their perception of the world beyond reckoning. See it now, the price of their peace, laid bare."

Another shift. This time, a face. She was a genin, by the look of it. Young. Brown hair and honey-tinted eyes. Naruto watched as her kind smile was split by the kunai of an older man wearing the Leaf. Naruto was still screaming as another scene solidified him again. He watched as an older man, another shinobi left his family on a mission with his team, only to be rent asunder by tainted demon chakra an hour later.

Another shift. Young male, long, jet-black hair. Crushed between two earth ninjutsu. His skull split from the pressure, brain matter flecking the jagged rocks and—shift.

"Please, no." Naruto murmured, as an older medical ninja was stabbed through the heart as her genin patient bled out on the muddy floor. "No!"

Shift. A small hamlet, overrun by deserters, every man, woman and child slaughtered to cover their passage. Shift. Woman. Jonin. Throat cut whilst buying time for her genin team to escape. Shift. Child, starved to death. Shift. Man, drowned in a water jutsu. Shift. Child. Shift. Shift. Shift. Face after face, each wearing blank eyes contorted and twisted in fear and pain.

Naruto sunk to his knees, tears streaming down his face, unable to close his eyes to the horror. "Please stop this, Itachi. Please!"

"No. You must understand the path the shinobi world treads. What is at stake. What Danzou has wrought in Konoha, even what he has done in Suna since–it pales in comparison to what comes if he, and the Akatsuki are not stopped."

"I understand!"

"You do not. If you did, you would have done more than simply ready yourself for your own fights to come. What happened to the principles that defined who you were when last we met? The Will of Fire that drove you to stand between Konoha and Suna's own jinchuuriki?"

Naruto ground his teeth, as the torrent of faces continued to flash by in front of him, lacerated or burned or tortured, and Itachi's disembodied voice span around him, everywhere and nowhere. "It burns as strong as ever! It's why I've trained so hard–so I can put a stop to all of them and take the village back for everyone!"

There was a sudden flash, and everything stopped. He felt cool air touch his skin, and the gentle rustle of leaves on the breeze that carried it. Above, the sky smouldered a gentle amber, familiar and soothing. He knew without looking anywhere else this sky belonged to Konoha. His legs hung over a small jetty across a lake, swinging as though a child, and beside him, Itachi clad in grey civilian clothes sat cross-legged, gazing pensievely across the lake.

With a start, Naruto realised he knew this place. He would walk by this place on the way home from the Academy, and sometimes, he would see Sasuke practising his fire jutsu out across the water. How he regretted, even now, not going to speak to him back then. Of making time for a person just as lonely as he had been.

"If that is so, Naruto-san, why is it you've abandoned everyone who once fought with you? Even as we speak, your friends and comrades are being hunted just as you are, and they have no Sannin for protection. And yet, you have done nothing to help. Hundreds who were unable to escape the village still remain entrapped by a tyrant–people you swore to protect."

"What would you have had me do, Itachi? Root has hounded us every step of the way, and Akatsuki outclass me by leagues. Jiraiya said we had to run, so I did. Said we had to hide, so I did. He said he was keeping ears close to the ground for signs of everyone, and that we should hold fire until I was strong enough to fight, so I did."

He sunk his head into his hands, rubbing fiercely at his eyes. "Do you really think I don't want to see everyone again? To be able to help them?"

Itachi turned to him then, dark eyes lacking any malice without the presence of the sharingan. "I do not mean to needlessly torture you, Naruto-san, or paint what you have done as a failure. Your actions so far have been entirely understandable."

"Then why?"

"Because we all have a role to play, and yours, whether you are ready for it or not lies at the centre of it all. As the host of the Kyuubi, as Jiraiya-sama's pupil and as the son of Yondaime-sama. As Uzumaki Naruto. You are a lynchpin for the future. I do not need the sharingan to see how events fold themselves around you, how they will fold themselves around you.

"Yet, no matter how strong you become, you can not do this alone. No training can give you what you need for victory, and the time you have left to prepare dwindles faster than even Jiraiya-sama believes. No game is won with just one piece, and as it stands, yours are scattered to the winds. Do you really believe yourself and Jiraiya alone will be enough when Akatsuki comes calling? Or when Danzou brings his full force to bear?"

Naruto shook his head slowly, and Itachi inclined his head in assent.

"The boy who dreamed of becoming Hokage–it is no longer enough to dream, Naruto-san. You must become the man, else the dream will die with you."

The scenery flickered again, and Naruto found himself standing once more beneath a crimson, moonlit sky, facing Itachi decked out in his Akatsuki robes. This time, Jiraiya stood to Naruto's left, face hard as stone.

"Wha–" he slurred, before his knees gave out beneath him and he slunk to the floor, the world spinning beneath him.

"Apologies," Itachi said, voice level. "I am not well practised in bringing more than one person here at a time. Welcome to my Tsukiyomi. Here, time passes at a vastly reduced rate, and we can speak away from Deidara's notice. We must be quick, however. Even if I mean no harm, extended time within this jutsu can be taxing on your real body and mind."


AN: Hey everybody, long time no see! Hope you enjoyed the chapter, I've been working on it a while!

As a little heads up, from this point on, chapters will be hosted early on my P*treon account (for free of course-never charging for ff!) as an extra little reward for my members over there. You can find me and join for free at /drking - they'll also be getting access to Stand Tall and Becoming chapters early too.

As an extra little heads up, folks have been plagiarising the hell out of Inheritance by uploading it in its entirety to Youtube a bunch with a tts voice. As a result, I decided I may as well do it, then people can at least choose to listen to it via the author instead of some random chancer. If that's your thing, you can check it out on my IWriteFantasy youtube channel, where I'm posting Inheritance and Stand Tall chapter by chapter. In all honesty, just hopping across to sub would be hugely helpful too, so hopefully I'll see some of you there!

Thanks again for your time and readership, it blows my mind again and again. Special shout outs to the folks that have joined my discord to ask about Inheritance, it really means a lot that people continually take the time to do that.

Have a good one folks!

Next Chapter's Title: 'Leaves in the Wind'.