KG: You know, I think I've finally discovered a fact about myself. I... have no life.
Music of the Week: Army of Strings by IMAscore.
Quote: ""The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised." by Norman Vincent Peale
"You know, I'm sure Kushina would beat you over your stubborn head if she found out what you were doing right now," Yuna said as Sasuke continued to train. As expected, the myths of the Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan didn't do it justice. The pain that Sasuke usually experienced from using the Susanoo or even the Amaterasu had lessened by a wide margin.
When he trained with Itachi, every move seemed to be read by each other. In fact, Sasuke dared think he was starting to predict the future with the eyes of his brother. The same could be said of Itachi. With his new body and the disease removed, Sasuke swiftly started to understand just how talented Itachi was.
"I will take a break soon," Sasuke remarked, releasing his control of the Susanoo. He marveled t the changes to his body. Not only had his eyes lessened the burden of these techniques, but the power from yesterday had done wonders for his physical might. In fact, now he could use multiple techniques in rapid succession for at least an hour before he felt something resembling physical strain. Granted, this was a rather corrupted test sample since Sasuke hadn't used any big techniques. He was well aware of what Kushina would do to him if she caught him training right now.
As it turned out, Yuna continued to watch Sasuke train for the better part of two hours before he finally decided to honor his promise. Not that she would complain, watching him shirtless was doing wonders for her, even if he was a bit of a stubborn bastard. Of course, she couldn't deny his desire to know how much he'd changed. Even Yuna recognized changes in her body ever since she'd taken her little brother's eye given to her by Itachi.
The spirit Yuna had been training with had pushed her further than she'd ever been pushed. If not for Kushina, the young Uchiha would have been taken over long ago. That said, she never shied away from the combat. In fact, it was the most thrilling, if painful, instruction she'd ever felt before. She would never deny that she learned a lot from the Uchiha ancestors assigned to her, many of who had been in the glory days of even Uchiha Madara.
"Since Kushina's given us some time off. Do you… want to spend some time together?" Sasuke asked, glancing off to the side.
Yuna rose an eyebrow and smiled. "Are you asking me out, Uchiha Sasuke? And here I was expecting a grunt of sorts," the older Uchiha said, a playful smirk on her lips.
"Hn," Sasuke grunted as he continued to wipe himself off with a towel. Yuna smiled at him and his abrasive regard for her comment. She pulled up her cloak and breathed out the cold air.
"Sure. I think I could stomach your presence for a night," Yuna answered, kissing his sweaty cheek as he passed her by.
"I think I'm the one stomaching anything," Sasuke fired back as he closed the door behind himself. He heard Yuna laugh as took his shoes off and stepped into his house.
It was quiet, at least more than usual. Of course, part of that might have been that Itachi was gone. He'd gone out for some reason and hadn't returned since last night. Sasuke thought to look for his older brother, yet something also told him not to bother. If Itachi didn't want to be found, then no one save for the most disciplined of warriors would find him.
Truth be told, Sasuke was still rather… unsettled around Itachi. He'd not spoken to Yuna or his mother about it, but dreams seemed to sprout up from time to time regarding the massacre of his family. He wondered if somewhere in his heart, he still hadn't forgiven Itachi or Konoha for the destruction of his clan, yet he'd also not forgotten what his clan tried to do. Sasuke couldn't say what was right or wrong, but he'd resolved to rebuild a better clan with Yuna.
Unaware of himself, Sasuke grabbed a door handle and turned it. When he opened the door, he stilled. In the depths of his mind, somewhere seared the very image of beauty into his brain. Shocked eyes stared back at him as Mikoto lay undressed, ready to get into the makeshift bath.
Sasuke wasn't sure what he was supposed to think at a moment like this, but he couldn't deny that his mother was indeed beautiful. He knew he should close the door, yet he couldn't do so. His eyes remained fixed on her body. It was wonderfully toned from years of training, her breasts hung wonderfully against her chest, and then there were her long legs. There was nary an imperfection on them, every single piece of his mother left the Uchiha utterly captivated.
"S-Sasuke!" Mikoto shouted.
Time swiftly seemed to resume as Sasuke became aware of himself. Cursing, he swiftly closed the door and released a rough exhale. "Why didn't you lock the door?" Sasuke inquired.
"You could have knocked!" Mikoto exclaimed, trying to have her body recover from the shock she'd just been given. Mikoto had never seen her son's gaze so focused.
"Was he… checking me out?" she questioned to herself. The thought seemed too preposterous to be real, yet she couldn't mistake that look in his eye. He'd been charmed by her appearance and she knew not what to think of that. She reasoned that he was a young man, indeed sexually active with Yuna, but still young nonetheless.
Truth be told, Mikoto didn't remember much of her bath. Instead, she remembered herself back in her room as she heard her son's steps through the halls. Each step was like a crash of thunder against her chest. At some point, she couldn't handle the pressure anymore and got dressed.
"Yuna, I'll be heading out for a bit," Mikoto said quickly. Yuna waved her goodbye and the mother of Uchiha Sasuke quickly ventured out into the snow.
For once, Mikoto was thankful for the ambiance of the cold. The crunch of the snow beneath her feet and the small flurries of snow were a welcome distraction. Of course, that distraction didn't stay for very long. Even as she walked in the cold, her body felt hot, and that heat started making her think many things.
Mikoto pulled up her scarf and absently watched men and women pass through the village, handing others their portion of food for the day. As Mikoto expected, very few had anything to smile about these days. She watched as shinobi shouted at each other, beating the crack out of each other only to be separated by other officials in the village. A Kumo shinobi lay on the ground panting while a Kiri shinobi lay on top of him.
Tensions were rising again, and the Kage struggled to keep the animosity down. There'd been numerous reports of assaults throughout the village, so much so that the Kage had to release a statement claiming that any shinobi would pay dearly for the crime. As expected, that had lessened the deal somewhat. However, it was also clear that the Kage weren't so keen to enact that punishment, and there was no reason to guess why.
They needed every man that they could get. The force within the village was already low from the battle, and it had only gotten lower since they arrived in this icy land. Try as they might, Karin, and the medical ninja of the various villages just didn't have the chakra to sustain so many people at once.
Then, there seemed to be the underlying fear that had begun to take root in the hearts of everyone. Some might think Mikoto didn't notice, but she saw the stares from some people. No doubt the memory of yesterday was still fresh in the minds of the people. The older Uchiha wasn't sure what the people had to be worried about, but it wasn't like Mikoto wasn't used to it. She'd had more than her fair share of gossip and whispers done about her while being associated with the Uchiha Clan when Sasuke was a child.
Oh great, and then she started thinking about her second son again. "...maybe I should try dating again," Mikoto thought to herself. While an odd feeling to be experienced with her son, his admiration of her body was unsettlingly welcoming. Maybe she was just thankful for the appreciating male attention. Recent developments had left her love of Fugaku rather waning.
Confused, Mikoto continued to walk alone until she found herself in front of the Uzumaki Compound. She wasn't sure what drew her here, but it seemed almost odd that she would come to Kushina's household. As expected, there were tents set up around the entire compound with men and women huddled together.
Mikoto came up to the door and knocked. After a moment, the door opened. "Mikoto, rare of you to visit. Can we help you?" Fuka asked.
"No, I was just walking around and you never know where your legs will take you when you're distracted. Is… Kushina around?" Mikoto asked. Perhaps, in some ways, Kushina was both the right and wrong person to talk to about this.
Fuka brushed a piece of her hair from the side of her face. "Unfortunately not. She's still sleeping with Yuri. They've been sleeping all day. I think they're feeling the stress more than anyone else, it's especially not good for Yuri, being so young. Why don't you come in and stay for a while? Maybe they'll get up," Fuka offered.
Though appreciated, Mikoto declined. "Thanks, but perhaps it's for the best. Let them rest. Kushina's been running on barely any sleep as has Yuri. If we stand a chance at winning this battle, then they'll both need to be fully rested. I'll just come back another time," Mikoto offered.
Fuka slowly nodded. "I see. Well, I'll tell Kushina you came by when she wakes up."
"Thank you," Mikoto replied. She then turned around and walked away. Fuka closed the door and so the older Uchiha journeyed through the rest of Konoha, her confusing yet stimulating thoughts staying with her.
"Well if he was so damn powerful then he should have fought harder!"
Mikoto turned her head. Confused, she noticed some of Sasuke's classmates. More specifically, she noticed the others looking at Tenten. She spotted Sakura and Shikamaru sitting there, looking at her disapprovingly. As for the weapon user, it had been clear that she'd been crying as of late. In fact, her entire posture screamed of exhaustion. Bags hung under her eyes and her steps were unsteady, the posture of an amateur.
"Tenten, you know Naruto fought as hard as he could. I… I didn't have faith in him before either, but he's still fighting for all of us right now. I was told by Tsunade-sama that Naruto's gone somewhere to train, you know he's a stubborn guy. He'll set things right somehow," Sakura reasoned.
"Of course, you get to say that! Your entire team is alive! You didn't see what I saw. You didn't hold the hand of your best friends as they were torn apart by that bastard. Besides, if Naruto doesn't need us for training then does that mean that we aren't enough?! If we're not enough, then why didn't he just let us die with them?" Tenten inquired.
"Tenten, you're grieving. We all are. In case you forgot, I lost my entire team too. A lot of people are suffering. However, blaming Naruto isn't gonna fix anything. Maybe someone could have fought Jashin better, but someone also could have fought him worse. It doesn't matter either way. We were given Naruto, and instead of complaining we have to make the best use of our circumstances. Besides, we all know what we're hoping for. Maybe if we win, Naruto can reverse all this damage. That is what we're all fighting for," Shikamaru claimed.
"...and what if he loses again when we're all dead? I don't have time for this," Tenten said as she turned around. She wobbled for a moment, gritting her teeth before Sakura stopped her.
"Tenten, you're in no condition to be training anymore. Look at you, you can barely stand. Even your parents have told me you haven't been eating. We can't afford the space to take care of you if you collapse," Sakura claimed.
Tenten stood up. "Then don't," The weapon wielder hissed much to the shock of Shikamaru and Sakura. As Tenten started to walk away, she turned around and found herself staring into the spiraling pattern of the Sharingan. Soon after, her eyes closed and she fell forward into Mikoto's arms.
"Mikoto-sama!" Sakura exclaimed as she and Shikamaru walked over to the unconscious Tenten.
"I see the two of you are having some trouble. Don't worry, she'll be awake in a few hours," Mikoto said smiling as Shikamaru took Tenten from the Uchiha's arms.
"Thank you. She's been rattled a lot as have the rest of us. Has there… been any word from Naruto?" Sakura asked hopefully. Of course, she knew that Sasuke's mother and Naruto were teammates. If there was anyone who might know how he was doing, it would be her.
Unfortunately, Sakura's hopes were dashed when Mikoto shook her head. "I haven't learned anything from Kushina, but I do know that Naruto's working since we felt his power yesterday. I don't know when he'll return, but he will at some point and he will be ready. Believe me, I know it's not easy dealing with grief and loss. Yet, I think you both have become outstanding shinobi. You make your family proud," she remarked much to their embarrassment.
Nevertheless, Shikamaru looked at her critically. "Do you… really think Naruto can win?" he asked.
Mikoto frowned. "It's not a matter if he can or not. He has to. Either he wins, or we all die. It's that simple," she answered. She then bid them farewell. However, before she could leave Sakura called out to her.
"M-Mikoto-sama, this feeling… Was this what Sasuke-kun felt?" the medic of Team Seven inquired.
Mikoto clenched her fists. It seemed she just couldn't get away from the name of her son today. It kept bringing her mind back to what happened in the bathroom. That said, it also reminded her of vastly unpleasant times, especially for both her sons.
"You really loved my son, didn't you?" Mikoto asked.
Sakura gawked. "I… I…"
Mikoto shook her head. "I think we've all gotten a glimpse to what my son felt. The only difference is, Naruto has a hope of restoring all that we lost now. Sasuke more than likely dreamed of this same thing happening to him when he was young. Let's cherish what we've been given for now, so that we will be thankful later," Mikoto replied.
Sakura and Shikamaru swiftly agreed as Mikoto walked off, her words oddly enough lifting a weight off her shoulders. Mikoto looked up into the snowy blizzard and sighed.
…Naruto, please hurry. Everyone was counting on you.
Up where the air was thickest, Naruto struggled to remain conscious. At some point, the cold air started to play tricks on his mind. His body had long since given way to frostbite. It took more and more uses of divine essence to keep him warm enough that his body wouldn't succumb to the freezing temperatures.
If there was anything good out of this, it was that at least Yura didn't seem to have any concerns with the cold. She just continued to meditate as he climbed her up. Yet, her body continued to change, growing stronger and faster in ways even Naruto couldn't comprehend. He didn't know what changes were being constructed within her body, yet he continued to trust in the Shinigami that it would all be for her good. No, not just for her good but for the good of them all.
That said, Naruto wished there was some good for himself. Every second of time that his physical body was spent resting, his mind was hard at work training with Tobirama, Kurama, Madara, and the others. Every single day was constantly filled with combat to the point where Naruto woke up wondering if he'd be getting attacked. There was no rest, there was only combat. Yet, he worked with Kurama over… and over… AND OVER!
Of course, Kurama never allowed him to use the form to climb the mountain. He claimed, and rightly so, that it made the journey too easy. He also reasoned that Naruto had continued to develop his own natural physical strengths through the exertion up the mountain. It would be in his best interests to continue to do so. Naruto didn't agree, but he didn't complain. Instead, he soldiered onward as Madara and Tobirama refined his taijutsu, they helped refine his battle techniques, and they trained his forces while he mastered the discipline within himself.
It was not easy, and Naruto loathed the voice that continued to mock him. Yet, with each strike of its venomous tongue, Naruto got closer and closer to the meaning of what the Shinigami meant. More and more clear the answer became.
Naruto grabbed a cold, sharp ledge. Before he could pull himself up, he noticed a hand. When he looked up, he saw Suiren with her hand extended. As always, there was a smile on her face. While Naruto didn't like it, he took her hand and she pulled him up.
"Save it. Just get in," Naruto said, mercilessly cutting her off. It quickly became clear to Suiren that indeed Naruto had not forgiven her, though he was willing to accept her aid for now. Willing to accept what she'd been given, Suiren nodded and merged her soul with Naruto's.
Even then, Naruto wasn't so willing to speak to her. When he rejoined the others, Madara and Tobirama swiftly took to training her as did the others. Suiren tried to inquire of Naruto what this would do to help, but he didn't respond. Instead, he merged with Kurama and fought out his frustrations like normal.
"I think it best to just do as we're told for now," Gari said, patting Suiren on the shoulder.
"...I see. I understand," she replied.
As expected, Naruto's compatibility with Suiren had taken a severe dive when they first merged. The usual power she'd come to enjoy had been swiftly stripped from her. In fact, she dare say she was about as weak as she was when Naruto first summoned her. She knew it, Naruto knew it, and everyone else knew it. Unsurprisingly, she'd become the weakest of the group, perhaps because after Pakura, he'd trusted her the most.
Yet, not even Suiren nor anyone else could hold their breath when the day came that Naruto would climb the mountain and he'd stare up at the offered hand from Pakura. Everyone could tell that Naruto was angry. In fact, some wondered if he might reset his entire progress in his anger.
Instead, Naruto did something else. When he took Yura inside, he returned to Pakura. He then grabbed her hand and accepted her inside. The others were immediately perplexed by the sight. However, they quickly understood when Pakura went over to Naruto. Whatever she was going to say died in her throat when he punched her. She fell backward in surprise as Naruto rolled his shoulder.
There was no training that day. Everyone just decided to leave Naruto to his own thoughts.
Dan walked over to Pakura and picked her up. "Are you okay?" he asked.
The Suna kunoichi opened her mouth and then slowly closed it. "To be honest, it wasn't the punch that hurt. If that's what I'll have to deal with to regain his trust, then I'll take it," Pakura answered, not knowing that she'd been heard.
Naruto had indeed heard her and he slowly opened his eyes. He sighed, physically and emotionally exhausted. "Maybe I'm not as disciplined as I thought," Naruto thought.
With another day of training gone, Naruto slept for a few hours. He then grabbed Yura and continued his way up the mountain. Over the course of several days, this training continued. Yet, everyone noticed that Naruto had been willing to merge his spirit with anyone except Pakura.
That said, it wasn't like he hadn't tried. He had tried one time with Pakura and it had been the worst experience either had ever felt. Kurama cursed when he realized just how much the relationship and understanding between the two had deteriorated. Naturally, Pakura never spoke a word about it, and neither did Naruto.
After that, Kurama and the others decided to forgo any training that had Naruto and Pakura working together for the moment. Instead, Tobirama and Madara settled for training her separately while the other worked with Naruto and the summons.
Silently, Kurama observed the incident. The frown on his face deepened while his mind raced with activity.
These were how Naruto's days went as he valiantly braved the harsh cold with Yura on his back. By this point, they were so high he couldn't even begin to fathom the bottom. Rather than the snow along the ground, a sea of white, frosty clouds lay underneath him. The air was so thick that his eyes were getting blurry. Even with the divine power constantly circulating through his body, it was hard. Every grab of a ledge seemed to sap more and more strength.
"K-Kurama, I need more!" Naruto growled.
From his spot, Kurama continued to watch as his partner struggled. He then glanced at the blond's summons. "No. Keep moving. Remember what you're doing this for, brat. If you fail now, there won't be enough time before you have to return to the village. If you fight Jashin now, you'll be defeated just like the last time. Then your lovers and the entire world are fucking doomed. Grit your teeth and PUSH ON!" Kurama exclaimed.
Naruto scowled as sweat burned off the side of his face. When he grabbed the icy ledge, one of his fingers slipped. He shivered as he saw the piles of snow fall into the blankets of clouds. With one arm holding Yura on his back, he hissed and forced himself to pull them both up. The limits of his human endurance were tested as his fingers bled.
Up and up, Naruto pulled himself as hard as he could. He dangled from one side of the incredibly narrow cliffside. His arms burned and his legs felt like they would collapse. He struggled, and struggled, and fucking struggled! Naruto struggled even as the voice assailed him and pointed out his flaws. He struggled even as it berated him at every turn.
Pakura and the others silently watched. Suiren clenched her fists and stepped forward, but Tobirama stopped her. She glared at him. While he was indeed tutoring her, it was still clear that she was a higher being blessed by Naruto's power than he was. To block her was almost the highest form of disrespect. Yet, she watched his gaze. She followed it and her eyes landed on Pakura.
The others watched the Suna kunoichi as well. Unbeknownst to her, every eye waited to see what she might do. Even as she took a step forward, they all remained silent.
"What do you think you're doing? I told no one to interfere!" Kurama warned as Pakura closed her eyes. She then looked back at the others. No one seemed willing to move, rather they all waited for whatever command she might give. After all, despite her ruined relationship with Naruto, she was still the one who had been the leader of them all.
"...then make me," Pakura said, refusing to watch Naruto struggle anymore without help. She stepped forward nervously and sighed. She then flared what power she could. Her body illuminated itself with the might of Honshou.
On the outside, Naruto frowned. He felt Pakura's power rushing through his body. While he wasn't sure how he felt about receiving her power, or why she'd decided to stand against the Kurama's instruction, he wasn't going to remain ungrateful for it. Immediately, he felt a little more relieved. The thick air became easier to breathe and he was blessed with the strength to pull himself and Yura up.
"I'll support you as best I can, Naruto-sama. I swear," Pakura said, her voice and tone filled with resolution. Unfortunately, Naruto wasn't sure just how much he could believe in that, but he decided not to take away her help. In fact, she was the only reason he was standing all the way up here at this moment.
"...right," Naruto replied. Yet, he stilled as he was filled with more power. He felt the presence of Dan, Gari, Suiren, Yahiko, and Kimimaro.
"We will support you, Naruto-sama!" they claimed after Pakura.
While their connection was still lesser than it had been before, with this much power flowing through his body, it was easy for Naruto to journey up the rest of the mountain.
"Naruto, perhaps it's best if you remember one thing. There has never been a time where you've been alone. There also hasn't been a time where you've had to do anything on your own. There have always been others to help you, support you, lift you up, and help you succeed. This time is no different," Kurama said within his own thoughts.
Naruto flew up and up the mountain with Yura in his arms. He sailed high until his eyes marveled at the stars in the sky. He jumped up and landed on another platform. His breathing felt hot and his legs staggered. His eyes turned to his fingernails. Once again, they were bleeding and the frost had claimed his fingers. Only the warmth of his summons kept his hands moving.
Yet, here, at the highest point on the mountain, Naruto stood. He slowly panted and stared out into the vastness of Kagura's realm. With the planets so close, and the celestial bodies dancing in the higher space, for once he seemed at peace with himself. He steadied his breathing and felt the very might of the realm surging into his body.
His pride humbled, Naruto slowly nodded. "All of you, merge with me," he said.
The others looked at each other with uncertainty. Naruto had never merged with all of them at once. Especially with how things seemed to be currently between them, they wondered if they all might just actually die attempting this.
"S-Shikyō-sama, are you that's…" Suiren started before Naruto cut her off.
"It's fine. I'll make it work," Naruto replied.
Glancing at each other curiously, everyone merged their spirits with Naruto's. For the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, the pressure made him grit his teeth. He'd never shared his spirit with so many people at once. It felt like he was being pulled in six different directions, and yet… there came a measure of comfort in the discomfort.
When the Uzumaki patriarch inhaled, it let all the pain and pressure enter in. Then he exhaled, and he let it all out. When he opened his eyes, his summons stilled at the beauty of the land before them. Having merged with Naruto, they saw what he saw. It seemed so strange that they'd gone to many places and they'd journeyed to numerous lands, yet never had they been able to just stare out in vast wonder at the world. To seem so small in the grand scheme of things, and yet to have the fate of the very Shinobi World to be riding on their shoulders.
Even with all the misery, all the helplessness, all the suffering, and all the sorrow, there were still amazing things beyond the Elemental Nations worth appreciating and protecting.
"It's beautiful," Suiren commented.
"Yeah. I never… I never watched things like this before. In a place where it always used to rain, you never got to see too many scenes like this. Do you think others will be able to look at this sky with us?" Yahiko asked.
The summoned silenced themselves when they heard Naruto speak. "It might not be now, tomorrow, a hundred years, or even ten thousand years, but there will come a day when a world will be made that its people can look at a sky like this together," Naruto answered. Jashin had tried to take that away from them, but Naruto would make sure to take it back. No, he wouldn't do it for the Elemental Nations. He wouldn't even do it for Konoha. He'd do it for his family, his friends, and… his lovers.
"It would be difficult. Many have searched for such an answer to such a dream long before we've been alive," KImimaro said.
"Then we'll keep searching until we don't have to search anymore," Gari answered back. The others agreed, silently vowing that if Naruto would have them then they would use all of their power to make his declaration a reality. Yet, none had a more potent declaration than Pakura.
In the meantime, the smile on Naruto's face fell into a frown. Slowly, he turned around and faced his next opponent. "Tell me, what do you see when you look at a sky like this?" he asked Kagura.
The Otsutsuki Princess of the Main Branch glared down at him from where she'd been floating in the sky. Her feet touched the cold snow before she followed his eyes. She looked at the world she'd made. Truth be told, she never paid much attention to it outside of using it as a necessity. Much less had she ever thought that anyone would find something she made to be visually appealing.
"You have kept me waiting for quite some time. Yet, I see that you have changed. What have you endured during your climb up here?" Kagura questioned.
Naruto looked at her and stared back at the sky. "I'm pretty sure I asked you first," he commented, offering her a glare.
Kagura frowned, yet she dared not speak haphazardly. This had been one of the select few times she'd been treated with such disrespect. Of course, she still held her nerve. The summoner that Naruto had been before was long gone. There was even greater confidence in his eyes and his body belied no visible weaknesses, even to her.
Kagura looked at the world she'd created. "An empty space with floating dead rock and waste of celestial matter. There is nothing of worthy note in it," she said.
Naruto chuckled which made Kagura glance at him. "Have I said something amusing?" she inquired.
"I'd answer that previous question, but I don't think someone like you would be able to understand my answer yet. I'll see if I can't change that pessimistic view of yours. In any case, are we gonna fight as well?" Naruto asked.
Kagura wasn't sure why that question irked her. The frown on her face deepened. What would be the point in fighting now? Even now, she could already feel the essence of her being surrendering to his own. She also felt the presence of that Uchiha within the depths of his body as well. Were she to have her true body, then maybe she'd have a chance but as a spirit, there was basically no world in which she could out sustain him. If she could, she'd try to overtake him, but not with so many guarding his spirit as diligently as the lower lifeforms that were his summons. It just wouldn't be feasible.
"There's no need. I feel your strength and your might. Indeed, you are beyond me at the moment, though I shall take advantage if you show weakness. Besides, you have lost enough time," Kagura said.
To be honest, Naruto was a little off-put by her decline for the battle. He'd been hoping to find at least some measure of power that he'd gotten to during this journey. Yet, when he looked at Yura, he already noticed the cold starting to overwhelm her. For her safety, he relented and accepted Kagura back into himself.
As soon as that was done, Naruto felt the Kagura's realm tremble. The mountains shook with a violent fury as avalanches started to abound. Acting quickly, he grabbed Yura lest she fall. When he grabbed her, he slowly levitated into the air. As soon as his foot left the top of the mountain, the rest of it trembled into a thousand pieces, shaking the ground and snow at the bottom. Lightning vigorously roared through the domain and the wind seemed harsh against his skin.
Yet, Naruto watched. He tilted his head up and watched the stars start to twist and turn. The heavenly bodies surged forward, constantly shifting and morphing until a light grander than even that of the sun bore down on the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki. The light was so harsh that even Naruto and the others tied to him had to squint their eyes. Even Kagura couldn't resist the aura for this was a power that she and others of her clan would have only dreamt of attaining. This was the realm where only one Otsutsuki had ever made it to. This was the very pinnacle of godhood, and she got to experience it.
Unknown to Naruto, the rest of Konoha could see the sight as well. Those within the walls of the village would always remember this divine spectacle. Some, with nothing left to lose, even dared propose to their loved ones as the celestial bodies out of the realm formed into the very visage of the Shinigami.
He looked at Naruto, the one who obtained his summoning contract. The thousands in the village wondered what it might mean, yet those of the Uzumaki Clan, Hinoken, and the Uchiha Clan knew it could only be something pertaining to Naruto. They knew because they were all glowing again, brimming with the aftereffects of Naruto's power.
As for the blond himself, he found himself pulled up by the Shinigami's power. In fact, he and Yura started to be pulled so high they left the lower space of the icy realm. They were pulled into the realm of outer space and stars as the Shinigami spoke.
"You are ready. Whether you are worthy shall remain to be seen. Be warned that your path will be a thorny one. They shall be a poison to you and you shall never know the purest form of rest, yet I shall be with you, Uzumaki Naruto. Those at your side shall be with you and you shall persevere. Shall you tread this path in spite of its consequences? Shall you tread this path… not knowing where it will lead you?" The Shinigami said as a door of pure gold appeared in front of him.
For once, Naruto was at a loss for words. The Honshou within his body swelled with unimaginable might. He looked at the door and he then looked at Yura. "I've lived a hard road my whole life. Yet, I never walked it alone. I never was alone. There was always someone watching me. Now, it'll be my turn to watch over the others. I'll never give up and I'll never run! That was my nindo, my way of the shinobi!" Naruto said as he allowed himself to be pulled towards the door.
Unconsciously, he worried for Yura. When he looked down at her, he saw a bright white presence outline her being. "Fear not for her, Shikyō. She shall indeed play her part and you yours," The Shinigami said as he separated Naruto and Yura. Another door appeared next to the golden door, this one notably less extravagant than the previous. Yura floated into that one until it closed behind her.
Naruto bit his lip but he knew there wasn't anything he could do about it now. The summoning circle on his arm began to illuminate as he got closer to his own door. When he was far enough along, the door closed behind him and he covered his eyes as he was covered in the vast authority of the realm of Death.
After some time, the light faded and Naruto found himself in a sea of darkness. His eyes narrowed as he was the only thing illuminating this cold, dark abyss. "Where am I?" Naruto asked, though none of his summons answered him.
"Ask not where you are, Shikyō. Ask what you are. This is where you shall learn my ways and my teachings. We haven't much time and you have much to learn for Jashin grows stronger every second he walks upon your world. Do you wish to know how best to defeat my brother and save your world?"
Naruto stilled as he looked around for the Shinigami's voice, yet the god of Death was nowhere to be found. "Do not see. Seek and find," he said.
Finally, Naruto stopped looking. "Yes. Please, tell me," the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki said, nay begged.
"If you wish to step into the realm of godhood, then sit. Do not see, yet perceive. Do not hear, yet listen. Do not feel, yet understand. And I shall guide you," The Shinigami instructed.
Immediately, Naruto sat down in the void. He then closed his eyes as the darkness swirled around his form. He perceived many things, under the weight of the vast nothingness, yet what he perceived the most was the presence of Shin.
The God of Death floated in front of him and closed his eyes. He then hovered over the blond and… settled into his body. "Merge your spirit with mine. In order to not be overwhelmed. In order to not forget. In order be a savior, not a destroyer, remember not where you are, nor who you are, but what you are!" The God of Death said as he merged himself with his young summoner.
It was then that thousands of memories flooded through Naruto's body along with more pain than he'd ever felt ascending the icy mountain. Yet, he was not alone. Behind those golden doors - Pakura, Dan, Kimimaro, Suiren, Yahiko, Gari, Tobirama, Madara, Kurama, Mōryō, the Kindred, and Kagura surrounded him. They emboldened him to withstand the onslaught of godly pressure weighing him down. This time, they would not let him battle alone, and they would train with him under the guidance of a true god.
Even as the sky began to settle, people kept looking up in wonder, speculating what might happen next. Finally, after at least an hour of gazing, the cold swiftly started to settle in again as everyone looked at each other, inquiring about what had happened. Some more than others.
"Okay, what the fuck was that?!" Tayuya asked, turning her head to Kushina. The Uzumaki Matriarch had woken up two days later. The sleep had been a welcome change of pace with Yuri at her side to warm her bed.
Said redhead immediately noticed all eyes on her. "Why do you all look at me like I know everything my son's doing?" she inquired, her eyes landing on Mikoto, her best friend, for some time.
"Because more often than not, you do," Fuka countered, smiling at the embarrassed flush on Kushina's face.
"They have a point, Captain," Yugao answered, only adding to the Kushina's shame. The others continued to look at her for an answer until she scowled.
"Well, I don't know! We'll just have to wait to find out. Now, let's get back to work!" she ordered, making everyone else laugh.
As usual, another day passed with more battles and more training for the various shinobi. Kushina continued to exert her will over the spirits that attached themselves to ninja in the snowy field. The Kage fought against Kushina and the shinobi alliance developed strategies against beings of greater might than them. Though there were no killing blows, every hit was more painful than the last. The medic team was constantly on standby lest anyone go into shock before the day was over.
However, over it was, and Kushina dismissed everyone. She looked down at her body in surprise. "Looks like I'm finally getting used to all this pressure. It's definitely easier than it was when we first came here. Not to mention, I feel the energy of my son steadily flowing into me. I'm not even exhausted despite all the fighting and monitoring I've had to do. Even Yuri's improved," she commented to herself.
It wasn't just her. The Shinobi Alliance had strengthened itself as well. While most were winded, it was a far cry from the beginning. They started controlling their breathing. The snow took longer and longer to siphon off their chakra and they were starting to maintain the connection with the spirits they merged with for even longer periods of time. Of course, doing so on their own without Kushina would be next to impossible, but with her at their side, it was a proper testament to humanity's ability to adapt.
People collected their materials and exited the field.
"Yuri, the training's over. You can stop now," Risa said as the young Uzumaki shook her head.
"J-Just give me a little longer. I'll stop soon, but I can't quit now. I need this!" Yuri exclaimed, her body brimming with the might of the Sanbi.
Risa sighed and rubbed her head. There was that infamous Uzumaki stubbornness. Then again, watching Yuri work so hard was inspiring in its own way. "Alright. Half an hour more, but no more than that. Keep doing what you wish, I'll watch you," Risa encouraged.
Yuri didn't reply, only smiling.
"Ey yo, we Jinchuuriki, we together. Let me join, three and eight will be better! Yeah!"
Risa turned around and noticed Kirabi standing behind her. Before she could even respond, the Hachibi jinchuuriki sat next to Yuri and started his own training, delving into the might of the Eight-Tails.
"Uzumaki Risa, you've become the babysitter of two jinchuuriki. What a fucking world," the cousin to Kushina said with a shrug of her shoulders. She prayed that the half an hour passed quickly. It was ready fucking cold now.
Kushina watched the scene from far off. She then turned her head and spotted Mikoto swiftly walking off the field. She might not have thought too much about it except for when she saw Sasuke watching her go when he thought no one was looking. Absently, Kushina had seen her son's best friend make numerous glances at his mother on more than one occasion.
She also remembered that Fuka told her Mikoto stopped by the Uzumaki household to speak with Kushina. Unfortunately, the Uzumaki Matriarch had been sleeping at the time. She tried to meet up with Mikoto and inquire about what happened, but fate seemed to be working against her. She'd stopped by the Uchiha Compound on several occasions hoping to speak with her friend, but Mikoto was always out of the house.
Kushina even resorted to asking Sasuke for any information, but he just awkwardly said that he'd inform his mother that she was looking for her. Whatever seemed to be happening, it became quite clear to Kushina that this had to do with Sasuke and Mikoto. Neither Yuna nor Itachi had much of an idea about the problem either. No doubt, there were some talks going on in the Uchiha household.
That said, Kushina wouldn't be Kushina if she wasn't just a little nosy. A sharp grin came onto her face.
Meanwhile, Mikoto sighed as her boots dug into the snow. Was it supposed to be strange that she'd actually started getting used to the snow? It seemed many others were just like her. Children laughed as they threw snowballs at each other with nary a care in the world. If only her thoughts could be so joyful.
Mikoto turned in an alleyway and sighed. "What's going on with me?" she inquired, absently watching her breath turn white against the cold. She scratched her nose for a moment as she continued to think. The last few days had been so peculiar to her. It'd been clear that she'd been avoiding Sasuke ever since their strange moment in the bathroom. She'd not be able to get his intense gaze out of her mind. Not even her dreams were safe from it.
Perhaps she was overthinking it, making it bigger than it was supposed to be. It was just an accident. It could happen to anyone. Yet, there were also the gazes Sasuke gave her when he thought she wasn't looking. It was kind of hard to not recognize it, especially with having lived with him so long.
Then there was Yuna and Itachi. They'd grown concerned with her returning home so late, but she just wasn't sure how to confront Sasuke about the issue. It sure as hell couldn't stay like this.
"I was wondering when you'd consider allowing a man back into your life, Mikoto. You must be falling pretty hard if he's got you like this."
The Mother of Sasuke and Itachi jumped when she heard Kushina's voice. She turned her head and stepped back in shock when she spotted her best friend right next to her, a smile sporting her face. Sad to say, but it'd been a while since she saw the Uzumaki Matriarch smile given the circumstances.
Recovering from her shock, Mikoto addressed her friend. "I have no idea what you're talking about. There is no man in my life," she said.
Now Kushina might have believed that if not for the signs she'd seen while she observed her friend. "You sure about that? I've been your friend for a long time, Mikoto. I know you. You might not know this but you tend to scratch your nose when you're thinking about a guy. It happened with Takeda, Itoshi, and Fugaku. No matter how nervous you've gotten with any other activity, you never do that. So you might as well tell me what's up," Kushina said.
Ordinarily, Mikoto would have laughed that her friend seemed to know her so well, but instead, she almost wanted to scoff. Well, it was true that her troubles were centered around a man, but they sure as hell weren't on the romantic interests of her son.
"I think you're a little confused," Mikoto said before Kushina plucked her in her head.
"I've been confused about many things, but this isn't one of them. I told you, I wouldn't be your friend if I didn't know you. And just so you know, you might be able to run for everyone else, but I'll always be able to find you. Plus, I know you love me. You'll never hate how buggy I can be," Kushina answered, nudging her friend's shoulder. Mikoto frowned, not willing to give the redhead the satisfaction of knowing that she was right.
Suddenly, she noticed Kushina stare off to the side. "Looks like I'm not the only one who knows something's wrong with you. Isn't that right, Sasuke?" Kushina asked.
…yeah right. Like Mikoto was gonna fall for that one.
"Mother, you've been avoiding me."
If it were possible for Mikoto to die for a second time, then that was how she felt. Her eyes widened and she was sure her heart leapt out of her chest along with the rest of her spirit. She turned around and noticed Sasuke staring at her, his eyes strong and focused.
It was then that Kushina's smirk widened. It seemed that whatever happened to Mikoto, it had involved Sasuke somehow. Nevertheless, her eyes narrowed when she saw Mikoto scratch her nose. "Y-You followed me?" she asked nervously.
"You've been coming home late and leaving incredibly early. In spite of our… issues, I still worry about you," Sasuke said.
Mikoto opened her mouth and then closed it. "Sasuke, no… I…" she started before the Uchiha turned around.
"I'll see you when you get home. We can talk later," he said as he turned around and walked away.
Kushina watched the exchange and then studied the crestfallen look on her best friend's face. "...you know, when I make this joke, it definitely is with the fact that you're an Uchiha in mind. You're a copycat, Mikoto," Kushina said.
…oh this was going to be one of the worst days of her life, wasn't it?
Kakashi frowned as he stared at Rin. Even with the spectacle that came through the sky, she'd been heavily depressed ever since she failed to find Obito. Try as he might, Kakashi wasn't really the comforting type. Of course, he tried his best yet it became clear that Rin wasn't quite so equipped to deal with the issues being presented to her.
He placed a cup of hot water next to her.
"Kakashi, what am I supposed to do? Obito wants nothing to do with me. I've tried looking for him, but its like he's disappeared into that frozen wasteland. I'm not… I don't know how to help him," Rin said.
Kakashi's face tightened. He closed his eyes and sighed. In the end, he could only blame himself. "It's not just you, Rin. It's not even just me. Obito simply… gave up. I don't know what he endured but you were his guiding light, the one thing that made him know no matter how dark the world of Shinobi became, as long as you were safe then it would all turn out alright. I was the one who failed his promise. I was supposed to protect you and I couldn't do it. Instead, I was the one who failed," Kakashi replied.
Rin glanced at him and Kakashi shook his head. "Let's leave him for now, Rin. Once things have returned to normal, you and I will get him back. I've let you both down and now Naruto gave me the chance to correct so many of my mistakes. I'll make sure to not fail this time. I don't know if we'll ever be able to go back to the way we were, but… it's better than nothing. Now that you know Obito's feelings, what will you do?" Kakashi asked.
Rin stilled and chuckled nervously. "What do you mean?" she asked.
Kakashi sighed. "Rin, I understand that a good portion of your life was taken away. You never did get to experience the many challenges of growing up that so many of us do. However, I'm sure that even you know what it's like when your feelings aren't answered. I certainly didn't consider how you saw me even after Obito's revelation. I… couldn't and can't give you what you want. Give the nice guy a chance and maybe he'll be what you're looking for," the one-eyed Hinoken member said, unable to maintain any eye contact.
Yet, he could feel Rin's gaze upon him. There seemed to be a long moment of silence before Rin sighed. "You're doing wonders for my self-confidence right now, Kakashi. I think I always knew that you'd never feel the way I felt about you. Though, thank you for your honesty. I never assumed anything would come about even when Naruto-sama revived me, but I suppose it's nice to have some closure on that," she responded.
Rin then leaned back and stared out into the snow. "Yes, it's on both of us to help him. There's nothing more painful than a reality built on a lie. This is all we have and I'll lay down my life for it, again if need be," the brunette said next, her resolve measured by her sharp gaze.
Kakashi smirked with a nod, sipping the hot water in his hand while he and Rin stared out into the harsh wintery landscape.
To be honest, Yugao was pretty tired. She'd already been going on two days with no sleep. Finally, she'd been allowed to go home and leave affairs to other shinobi. She shook her head and stepped her way through the refugees sleeping in her home. Some of them smelled worse than others, but there wasn't much she could do about that. Supplies had continued to dwindle as Naruto was nowhere to be seen. Yet, Yugao had faith that her troublesome teammate would rear his blond head and save them all from this nightmare.
Yugao entered her room and immediately frowned. Closing her eyes, she closed her door and sat on her bed.
"Look, if you have any grievances with me or Konoha, then I suggest you save them for later. Now isn't the time for us to be fighting. I won't report this matter to Hokage-sama if you all withdraw right now. However, if your friends, family, fellow shinobi, and the world that is our home are worth getting some small chance at vengeance then you're welcome to try me, but you better understand one thing. You'll lose! Badly!" Yugao warned, releasing the lingering traces of spiritual divine might that she'd been endowed with from Kushina and Naruto.
To show her confidence, she took her hands off her sword and placed it on her bed. She then got up and opened her bedroom window. Her back turned to them, she walked back to her bed and waited.
The shadows around her bedroom remained there for a long while. Yet, in the end, she sensed their presence fade away as they left at high speeds through the open window.
Once they were gone, Yugao slowly inhaled and then exhaled, releasing the power she'd been exuding. She then put her head in her hands. "Even on near annihilation, we still can't get along. What's wrong with us?" she questioned.
Then again, she wondered if she could talk. She still hadn't forgiven the man who killed Hayate. She knew he was of Suna origin and she knew he was still alive. Yet, what would be the point in going after him now, or at all? It wouldn't bring Hayate back and it wouldn't make her feel better.
Yugao often asked herself why she hadn't asked Naruto to revive Hayate. It seemed like he was perfectly willing to do so for the others. Surely, he would have done so for her as well. Yet, Yugao also came to understand something. "Sometimes, it's just a person's time to go I suppose, whether some higher power decides it or not. Maybe for some, it's the inability to move on that makes us give such mistakes. In order to not repeat them, it's best to learn from them. If I lose Hayate to the cycle of violence of the Shinobi World, then… maybe I should choose my actions carefully with the next person I'm with," she thought.
Feeling the chill, Yugao closed her window and kicked off her shoes. She then walked over to her bookshelf and grabbed one of the few materials she enjoyed reading. Deciding to try and find her peace in something else, she sat on her bed and read peacefully. Unfortunately, her reading didn't last long before she fell asleep.
"Yugao-san? Yugao-san! Yugao-san…"
The member of Hinoken groaned as she turned over. She suddenly felt very cold, well colder than usual. Absently, she reached for her covers to pull them over her head, perhaps in some vain attempt to drown out the noise. Unfortunately, her covers were nowhere to be found.
Hoping to not get up, Yugao turned around again. After a while of putting up with the cold, she growled and opened her eyes.
"What the hell…" Yugao thought as she realized what she could only describe as a cloudy sea of colors. Slowly, she leaned up.
"Where am I?" the purple-haired woman questioned as she stood up. She noticed that she was fully dressed in her Hinoken garbs. Even her sword was strapped to her back. She was pretty sure she left that near her bed when she'd fallen asleep.
A voice, one she briefly recognized spoke as if it tickled the outer rim of her ear. "Hello?" Yugao questioned, her voice echoing into the vast, yet colorful nothingness. Someone, please let this be a dream.
The kunoichi tried to stand but the pressure was way too heavy. She'd only felt one thing like it and that had been the presence of Jashin. That said, as opposed to that time, this one filled her with nary a measure of dread. In fact, it was a peaceful pressure. So peaceful was it that Yugao actually found herself comforted by the aura despite her senses warning her that something was off.
"It's… actually nice here. S-So nice. It's warm too. This place is perfect. I could just… fall… asleep…" Yugao thought as she slowly closed her eyes. Unknown to her, the clouds swiftly started to surround her.
The former Anbu suddenly jumped up, opening her eyes. She leaned up and noticed herself becoming overwhelmed by the multi-colored clouds. "What the…" she said before a hand touched her shoulder.
"Yugao-san, you can't fall asleep. Not here. I know it seems like you can, and I know it seems perfect, but if you fall asleep here you'll never wake up back in your bed. I… I'm sorry that I had to call you here, but I have no choice. I need your help. You're the only one who can help me."
With the tone, and its soft, yet rather shy undernotes, Yugao quickly recognized the voice. "Yura?" Yugao questioned, turning her head in the hopes to see the Uzumaki. However, pain soon came to her shoulder when Yura grabbed it.
"Don't. Turn. Around!" Yura warned, making Yugao shudder at the strength being exuded. Her voice was unlike anything the former anbu had ever heard before. As far as Yugao had been aware, Yura shouldn't have been capable of such power. In fact, just turning her head filled her with unbridled terror. In the briefest glimpse she was allowed, she saw what looked like a black mist seeping from the hand on her shoulder.
Wisely, Yugao turned back around. "Why not? Are you in trouble?" she asked.
The pressure eased. "Yes, and no. I can't contact Nii-sama. I think he's training and I don't wanna disturb him. I somehow can't contact Kushina or Yuri and… I kinda don't wanna do this with Kakashi-san or Sasuke-san. I barely had enough time to contact you," Yura answered.
"Okay, and Mikoto?" Yugao asked.
"...she was too far away," Yura answered.
To her credit, Yugao held her humor over the situation. It was obvious that Yura was rather distraught and in urgent need of help. "Alright, what do you need from me?" Yugao inquired.
"...I need you to spend the rest of your life with me,"
KG: The training arc for everyone is slowly coming to a close as The Call of Destiny sounds for them all. After Jashin, there will be perhaps one or two major arcs before the completion of this story. I just wanted to say that it's been such a joy to go with all of you on this journey and if you think the Naruto vs Jashin fight is gonna be crazy, just wait till I give you the rest. I'm very excited!
KG: With that being said, I have a poll up on my profile. To ALL OF YOU who keep asking me to update my fics. Well, this is your chance to get your opinion in. I've complied some fics that many have asked me to update. This poll won't be going down until this fic is over. And, just like the poll states, I suggest you pick Summoner of the League carefully. I have A LOT of ideas for that fic and it could be a fic that I focus on for the next twenty or thirty years. Choose wisely!