Recommended story: 'Second Chances' by FlamexFullmetal

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Naruto and Moegi looked at their rescuer with shock and awe, while Ino and Isaribi were more confused than anything. After all, they didn't know who this person was.

"Moegi, is it you?" Shinju asked, kneeling down to get a better look at her daughter. Right away Moegi engulfed her in a hug, crying happily to see her, and Shinju did the same. "I hoped it would be longer before you came here."

"Where are we Mom?"

"This is the land of the dead. I think Niflheim is it's official name, but we know it best as the underworld."

"Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'dead cold'." Isaribi commented.

Shinju released the hug enough to look at her daughter directly. "How did you die?"

Moegi blinked and raised an eyebrow. "I didn't die. None of us did." She looked to Naruto. "Did we?"

"We did fall through that tree, but yeah I feel as alive as ever." Naruto replied.

"Hold on, your mom said that the bottom level of the big tree was the land of the dead. So I don't think we died, we just fell into the place where dead people go." Ino corrected.

"Which means we can still get out." Isaribi added, making them smile.

"You don't know how we can get out of here, do you?" Naruto asked Shinju.

She shook her head. "Sorry no, but I know where you can find someone to ask."

At that moment the other two cloaked figures walked up to them. "Hey kids, help us carry this meat and we can show you somewhere much warmer."

"Meat? Aren't you guys dead? Why would you need to eat?" Ino asked.

"For the pleasure. Food is one of the few luxuries we have here." The other cloaked figure added.

The two figures removed their hoods, revealing their faces. One was a man with pink hair, making him look like a relative of Sakura to the others. The other was a woman with long blonde hair, making her look like a relative of Naruto. The woman was the one holding the tether spear while the man had the scythe.

"It's always so sad to see kids here." The pink-haired man said, melancholy.

"We're not dead, we were in the yggdrasil realm and fell here. We're still alive." Ino corrected.

"That's good, but word of warning, you can still die while you're here. Try not to." The blonde woman warned, sounding almost teasing while she spoke.

"Who are you guys?" Naruto asked.

"In life, I was known as Tatsuya Haruno." The pink-haired man answered stoically.

'He is related to Sakura.' Naruto and Ino thought, surprised. Ino was especially interested since she could not recall her friend ever mentioning a relative by that name, making her wonder how close he was, or how long ago he had died.

"My name is Rieko Rokudoka. Not that it matters anymore." The woman added, sounding disinterested.

"Come, let's show you the place where the dead live." Tatsuya offered, gesturing for them to get to work.

"Do you know a girl named Sakura Haruno?" Ino couldn't help but ask when she could.

Tatsuya shook his head. "Nope, doesn't ring a bell. Don't let that surprise you, I've been dead for a long time."

"How long?" The platinum blonde asked.

He shrugged. "No idea, I stopped counting the coin days a long time ago."

"Coin days?" Ino, Naruto, and Isaribi asked.

"I'll explain that when we get somewhere warm kids." Shinju offered.

In a dark room, a man covered in bandages looked at his arms. He stood up for a bit, but his legs protested, forcing him to sit down.

"It's good that I have a new body now, the pain Sarutobi-sensei caused me was horrendous. Now I just have to endure the process of getting it to obey me."

Orochimaru's body possession jutsu, while very useful to him, did have some drawbacks. Aside from the three year limit, the initial period where he took over a body was always met with some resistance. Most likely the original owner doing some fighting back, though Kabuto theorized that it could be like how a body could reject transplanted organs. There was some merit to that since a couple of bodies had resisted him more than others, particularly those that had severe differences than his original one. The more similar it was to his own, the easier the process was, so kekkei genkai users were trickier but not impossible.

"Sasuke-kun should have shown up by now. The fact that he hasn't means Konoha succeeded in stopping his escape." The snake sannin thought out loud. "I just need to try again, this time with something more reliable than the Sound Four. Hmm... this may take a while to plan out correctly."

The trip was a long and cold one, but in time the kids managed to reach an actual city in this vast empty tundra. Like Konoha it was walled, except these were ice instead of stone and less uniform in structure. Almost like they were layered over many times over the eons. Either way, they were tall, and the ways through were small gates at the base that could easily be overlooked.

Tatsuya, Rieko, and Shinju opened the gate and allowed the four kids to go through first. On the other side they saw a city, one that only vaguely reminded them of Konoha. The buildings looked more Victorian in structure and there were a lot of lamps and lights put around, almost like without them this place would never get any light. Snow was still everywhere but at least the walkways were cleared, with some people shoveling it before it built up too much.

"I was hoping this place would be warmer." Moegi commented.

"Sorry girl, but the only place in this realm that's warm isn't somewhere you want to go." Rieko replied.

"What, is it hell?" Isaribi asked.

"Yes." Rieko and Tatsuya answered bluntly.

The kids didn't know what to say, they just looked surprised.

"We're not... near it, are we?" Naruto made himself ask.

Rieko shook her head. "Nope, not even close. But that doesn't mean we can't get there from here. Just try not to leave this place unless you know where to go."

"Come kids, let me take you to where I've been staying." Shinju offered. "Thanks Rieko, Tatsuya, I'll see you next time."

They nodded then walked off, taking some meat with them. Shinju guided the four kids with her into the city, taking their own portions too. They saw some people going about their business, acting like most living passerby. Walking around, chatting, carrying things. Honestly this place could have passed for a city in Land of Snow if they weren't aware of where it really was.

"Wait!" Shinju spoke up, making them stop. Up ahead all of them could see a figure in a white cloak much like the ones Shinju and her companions had worn, only this person had a mask on. This mask was black but had a white circle on the face, and they were walking towards them.

"Is that a friend or foe?" Naruto whispered.

"Friend, but only if he speaks to you." Shinju whispered back.

The white cloak figure continued walking, and they noticed that everyone in the area was still and watching them. Clearly this mystery person was important or powerful, and the four kids wondered why. The figure looked at them all, their gaze lingering on them, and with their face unseen it was hard to say what they were thinking.

After a moment it continued on, stopping in front of a woman leaning against a wall. She looked surprised and held her breath, while the white figure reached into a pocket.

"Congratulations, it is your time." He said in a deep regal voice, handing her a golden coin the size of her palm.

"Thank you, so much." She replied, taking the coin and putting it in her own pocket. Without waiting, she ran off like she was in a major hurry.

"What was that?" Isaribi asked, seeing most people look at the woman now and some follow her.

"That man there in white, he's a Coinman. Once every forty-nine days, they go through town giving coins to a select few. If you get one, it means you have the opportunity to be reborn in one of the other worlds. Basically for that woman, she can now stop being dead and be reincarnated." Shinju explained. "If she can make it to the special place that is."

"What? Why wouldn't she?" Naruto asked.

"That coin she was just given, it's the one ticket out of here for people like us. No one gets reincarnated without one, and some people have been here for centuries. So if someone impatient were to ambush her before she gets to use that coin..." Shinju told them.

"They could steal it and use it for themselves?" Ino asked.

Shinju nodded. "There's no rule against it."

"What about the people who give these coins in the first place? Couldn't they just stop it from happening?" Naruto asked.

Shinju shrugged. "I asked the same thing when I found out. I agree it's unfair, but how can we stop it? I mean, if I went up to the Coinman and told him to do something, that could risk my own chances for getting reincarnated."

"So you're just going to do nothing?" Naruto asked.

"Maybe not forever, but right now I don't have a better idea."

The Coinman went about his business, gaze seemingly lingering on them for a moment, but Shinju just continued walking when it was apparent that she was not going to get a coin today. The walk took a right at what looked like an armory and took them through an alley until they found an open area with two stairways up on either side, and a statue in the center that looked like a hunter with a dog. If they were supposed to recognize this man they didn't. Shinju ignored it and took them up the left stairway, coming to a building with a red door.

"Here we are." She said, opening the door and letting them inside.

The inside was very plain, just an open room with two doors on the other side and an hearth in the center of the floor. Three chairs were arranged around the room, covered with fur pelts, and hooks on the wall held cloaks and weapons. There were no electronics or art, but there was a bookcase that held a grand total of four books.

"This is... not too bad." Naruto noted.

Ino grimaced. 'Wow this is so barren. But at least it's warmer.'

'Better than what I used to have.' Isaribi thought.

"Do you live here alone Mom?" Moegi asked as Shinju took her coat.

"No dear, it's pretty hard to get places to yourself here. Sometimes people just bust in and take the place, I saw it once. Luckily for me the people who already live here were nice and invited me in."

"Aren't you worried that they only did it to hurt you?" Ino asked.

Shinju took her coat too, along with the others. "I'm dead, what can they do to me? Make me more dead?"

"Where are they?" Isaribi asked.

Shinju shrugged. "I'm not sure. Maybe they're out doing whatever they want to do. Or maybe they're working as Coinmen."

"I sure hope not. That would make living here awkward." Naruto joked.

Shinju chuckled. "C'mon, let's cook up that meat. Naruto, want to help out for old time's sake?"


"Old time's sake?" Ino asked as Shinju went into one of the other rooms and Naruto started a fire at the hearth.

"She's the one who taught me how to cook." He explained.

Moegi nodded. "Mom's been a big help to Boss."

"But I thought you lived on your own." The platinum blonde pointed out.

"I did, but I had a little help." He admitted, while Shinju came out with some cookware.

After Moegi had first met Naruto and considered herself under his wing, her mother had been concerned if the village pariah would be a good role model for her daughter. She asked to meet the boy, managing to do so on one of the many days when Kakashi wasn't training his team and more keeping them busy. She had seen Team Seven pick up trash around town, with Naruto having it the hardest because his bag kept ripping and his teammates had made him deal with the 'wet' trash judging from the spilled contents. Still, he pushed on and despite more ripped bags finished his job, with his teammates and sensei doing nothing to help him.

At that time if Shinju had any lingering concerns about Naruto being Kyuubi in human form, they went away. Why would such a powerful violent monster put up with that without erupting into outrage? Heck most humans wouldn't put up with that. Afterwards she had approached him and offered him a towel to clean off, which he had accepted. His stomach had growled and she had offered him food, but he declined and ran off.

Later on Shinju along with Moegi saw him again, this time on a break from team stuff and made conversation. Naruto acted politely again and overall was a completely normal boy, even helping them with shopping. But when he got hungry and she offered him something to eat, he again refused and left before she could push the issue. Confused, Shinju thought it over and concluded that in the past some of his haters must have tried to poison him, possibly more than once, and as a result Naruto had learned never to accept food from anyone he didn't trust. It was unpleasant to consider but it did fit the evidence, especially when Moegi had informed her that Naruto's taste palete appeared quite limited. Odds are he was reliant on himself to feed himself the majority of the time, and like most kids he had limited options on what meals to make.

The next time Shinju found him, she made him an offer. She would provide him a dinner but he would be the one to make it per her instructions. She would supply him with the ingredients and some needed tools, but he could make it with his own hands and at his apartment. Therefore there would be no reason for him to doubt its safety, especially if Moegi would be eating it too. Naruto was hesitant, but couldn't think of a way to refuse without just being rude, so he accepted. With Shinju's help and some proper guidance, he was able to make a simple stir fry meal that tasted reasonably well. Not gourmet quality but edible, and a nice change from ramen.

After that, twice a week baring no outside circumstances Shinju and Moegi helped Naruto learn to make new dishes and introduce him to foods beyond ramen and easy-to-make meals. In no time Naruto started feeling more conmfortable with it, even going to their house and cooking there. Konohamaru and Udon were included a few times, prompting Naruto to learn bigger meals and a few desserts. After a bit, Naruto said that Shinju had been like a civilian version of Iruka to him, which after given context she took as a compliment.

Shinju came out of the other room holding a bag of rice along with some sauce bottles. "Sorry, food's a little limited in this place. Be lucky anyone can farm anything in this cold place."

"No problem, at least you taught me stir-fry." Naruto remarked, earning a smile from her.

Dinner finished with everyone complimenting Naruto and Shinju for making the meal, Ino being particularly surprised since like her classmates it was still odd to think of the whiskered blonde making anything other than ramen. Once finished they got to cleaning the dishes and putting away the leftovers, when there was a knock on the door.

"I'll get it." Shinju replied, confused since her roommates likely wouldn't knock here. She opened the door and there stood a Coinman. "Oh, can I help you?"

"There are reports of living people in this town." The Coinman explained, then looked to the four young people. "You four, you still carry an aura of life on you. You are still alive, are you not?"

"Yes, we are. And we want to go back home." Naruto declared.

"I was hoping someone could help them get back to Earth." Shinju added, being sure to sound respectful to the masked cloaked man.

"Follow me, I will bring you to someone who can assist you." The Coinman claimed.

"Thank you." Shinju replied, then she and the others got their coats on and left the house, following the Coinman.

With their guide, the group walked down many walkways and passed many buildings before they eventually ventured into an open plaza with buildings all around. All of them seemed to be residential, no shops anywhere. In fact, aside from removing snow or ice no one seen had been doing anything that could be considered work. Ino suspected that this was because the dead had fewer needs and ultimately no reason to buy or sell anything, but to her a lack of shopping would make this a very unpleasant afterlife.

'If I had to be stuck here for so long with nothing to do, maybe I'd be prone to stealing someone else's chance to leave too.' She thought, picturing herself stealing someone else's coin.

On the other end of the plaza was a large tower, one they had been able to see from afar but up close it was more impressive. It was simple, like a clock tower, except the clock was divided into sevens. The numbers showed 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, and 49, and right now the one hand on the face was pointing to the 49.

"That's how you know when to expect a Coinman?" Naruto asked.

Shinju nodded. "Yeah, time really has no meaning here except for that. I don't even know how long I've been dead anymore."

"It's been too long as far as I'm concerned." Moegi sadly answered, hugging her mom. Shinju hugged her in return.

The Coinman had them go up to the front doors of the tower, which were embroidered with a weighing scale emblem much like a symbol of justice on it. He opened the door and had them enter. The inside was brighter compared to the streets outside, and considerably warmer. The room was completely barren except for an elevator on the far end, and the Coinman had to operate it, taking them up to the third floor.

The third floor was also one single room, except this was less barren. There were chairs and a wide desk.

"Wait here, help will come." The Coinman said before taking the elevator down, leaving them in this room.

"How long will we have to wait?" Isaribi asked.

"Who knows. The dead have nothing but time." Shinju responded. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a deck of cards. "Might as well play a game."

"You sure this is wise?" Kakashi asked as he followed behind Jiraiya.

"Honestly, not completely. But we need to do something. Orochimaru will make another attempt to collect the Uchiha, and if he does he'll do for the overkill to make sure he succeeds. The best way we can make sure he doesn't succeed is if the Uchiha isn't here in the first place."

"Still, the Blood Prison?"

Jiraiya nodded. "You have a better idea?"

Kakashi sighed. "I wish I did. Are you certain that Orochimaru will make an attempt soon?"

Jiraiya nodded again. "Yes, it's the logical conclusion. By now Orochimaru will have had to take a new body, so he can't take control of Sasuke for the next three years. If you were Orochimaru, which would you prefer? Taking him now and prepping him so that he will be at peak strength when you want him? Or let him stay here for three years and deteriorate from lack of training then go for him?"

Kakashi could only agree. "You're right. As much as I hate to admit it, we need to make sure Sasuke cannot be taken or free to escape. The Blood Prison is the best option we have, if we can get him there without hassle."

"Don't jinx us Kakashi." Jiraiya remarked, stopping at a prison door. "Good news Uchiha, you're about to leave that dank cell."

The genin inside said nothing, though a quick glance showed he was awake and attentive.

"Nothing to say?"

"He was never one for conversation Jiraiya-sama." Kakashi assured.

"Well where he's going he's not going to have much more than he is now." Jiraiya commented. "Little advice for the future Uchiha, don't drop any soap."

Jiraiya started to walk away but Kakashi stayed behind, looking into the cell through the small barred window. "Sasuke, your future is not going to be bright. But you can make it a little better if you just say you regret it."

Sasuke snorted, not bothering to even be sarcastic.

Kakashi sighed. "One day, I hope you remember that you had a chance to avoid going where you end up." He then started walking away.

"It's not over."

He stopped, waited to hear more, but Sasuke remained silent. Shaking his head, Kakashi resumed walking away.

After what felt like hours, the elevator door opened. In walked three people, two men and one woman, wearing red robes. The weird thing was one of the men had no face at all. The two groups looked at each other for a moment, neither speaking, then the red robed people approached the desk and sat down. Shinju and the four kids put away their cards and sat in the chairs facing the desk.

"This meeting will officially begin. For your comfort we will tell you our names." One of the man started. This man had long white hair, pointed ears, and yellow eyes. "I am Elper, Judge for Alfheim."

"I am Panko, Judge for Midgard." The woman added. She had short red hair, blue eyes, and looked the most normal to them.

"I am Tarowa, Judge for Makai." The other man finished. He was the one with no face, yet somehow he spoke clearly. Beyond that, he had pale skin and sleek black hair, looking just like a noppera-bo. "State your own names."

The four kids did so, along with Shinju.

"We're here because we were informed that four living people are here in Niflheim." Panko stated. "This is unorthodox. Am I correct in assuming that the four of you wish to return to the living realm you came from?"

"Yes!" They stated firmly.

"We should warn you of a few hurdles to this, as we cannot just send you home." Tarowa explained, trying to sound comforting but looking at him ruined the effect. "The process for sending souls out of Niflheim is designed to work for the dead, and so they can be reborn into new bodies and have new lives. Thus, the normal methods do not send living souls still attached to bodies back to resume their original lives in their original world."

"So we can't be given a coin and use that?" Naruto asked.

"No, that would not work. Not unless you're willing to die and be reborn as a new person." Elper informed.

"Yeah I'd rather not do that if we can avoid it." Ino replied.

Naruto nodded. "Agreed, I've got people back home that need me to come back as myself, not as someone else."

"Can't you tell us where the root of Yggdrasil is?" Isaribi asked.

"We could, but we don't recommend it. The root is guarded by a rather aggressive sentry, one who ensures the dead don't get to leave whenever they decide. It's been a long time since an incident like this has come up, so we can't guarantee that the sentry wouldn't treat you the same as the dead and prevent you from leaving too." Elper claimed.

"There has to be a way." Moegi said.

"There is another one, which we looked in the records for before coming here." Panko told her. "However, it is arguably the most dangerous. Honestly, you would be better off taking your chances with the sentry."

"But, if you succeed, you will be able to return to your world as you were, as if you were never gone." Tarowa added.

"What is it?" Naruto asked.

The judges hesitated to answer but then Elper cleared his throat. "You must go to the edge of Hell, and challenge a devil to a game. Win, and they will give you whatever you want. Lose, and they will drag you to Hell for all eternity, living or not."