Understanding Does Not Presage Peace (Naruto, Insert)

Chapter 12: The Grit of the Sublimely Accomplished (II)

Karmic Acumen

Well-known member
A/N: Even disregarding the terrible writer's block that made me throw out everything I wrote for this part the first time, the process for writing this has been complex. Not as complex as the third and final section of this chapter, which was the real holdout.

In a desert-dry irony kind of way, I find myself having to take back everything I said about the odds of me becoming party to the online gig economy. If not for the commitments I made on Subscribestar and Patreon, I might not have gotten this out for another few months. So, my bad I guess? I'm old enough to change my mind, okay? Okay!

I considered holding this back and putting up a poll here and elsewhere, on whether I should post this in sections or hold back for another few weeks until I had this and another chapter finished, to get properly ahead of things. But even with the occasional complaints about cliffhangers, we all know what the results of such a poll would be, now don't we?

So, here it is, part two of three. I hope it doesn't disappoint.


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(II)

"-. Kurama, the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox .-"​

He hated humans.

"Nobody move or the Kyuubi brat gets it."

They trampled his father's dream, destroyed everything he worked for and spent the ages doing their best to erase everything that hurt them, even when they were themselves completely unworthy of inheriting the earth.

"I advise against whatever it is you're planning."

He hated that sanity could be destroyed by the single worst among them accumulating more power than everyone else combined.

"Doctor, I'm surprised at you. Condescending to other people, why, one might mistake you for someone else!"

He hated how the worst among them got together like yeast and drowned out the voices of the handful with any claim to sanity until they vanished like bird cries in wildfire.

"At least it would be other people mistaking my identity and not me."

Their gawping was even more unseemly, exceeded only by how revolting it was that the ones with the best composure were the biggest killers.

"Whatever could you be insinuating, doctor? Was it not all of you who mistook me for the poor gatewarden? Besides, I don't remember making any claims to any identity, now did I?"

Look at them, standing and watching even after their own children were saved only because of the sacrifice of the one among them who was not a killer.

"Naruto," Masanari began speaking tongues. "This is the bad man who forced Kurama to kill your mom and dad and the village."

"What?! He's-AH!"

"Speaking in tongues now, Doctor?" Uchiha Obito said idly while twisting Naruto's head by the hair. "Don't you think that's rude?"

The way humans could take Kurama's own words and twist them into poison never failed to make him want to kill all of them.

"Kid, your keeper just gutted me, you have no room to talk."

The way even the best and brightest among them inevitably became party to lies and deception was contemptible and left no room for their redemption as a species.

"Did he? It doesn't seem to impair you much." The black and white creature began to slither out of the ground behind the interloper, arm missing and a massive gouge in its torso slowly knitting together like black tar. "That was quite the feat you pulled off too, as far as it goes. How many Celestial Gates did you have to open just to match a mere shunshin?"

He hated the Uchiha the most, with those loathsome eyes of theirs that could steal even his will and their chakra more ominous than his own.

"Naruto," Masanari said without taking his eyes off the Uchiha bastard. "Stop squirming. You're throwing me off."

He hated their self-delusion that could run so deep that they became wilfully blind to what was right in front of them.

"Yes, brat, stop squirming and watch, your uncle and I are about to show you how the world works."

But if there was anything more galling than everything else, it was seeing an Uchiha with delusions of knowing how anything worked at all.

"Kid, you don't want to get into this with me."

It was as galling as it was useless for anyone else to try and reason with them.

"See, fox brat? Your uncle wants peace, but at the same time he's just aching to charge at me in a flash and hurt me like he hurt guruguru. In the end, the life of humans always comes to this."

They all put themselves at the center of the universe, every last one of them envious, malicious! And even after they broke everything they claimed to want fulfilled, they still thought they were in the right. Jealousy, insolence, arrogance, deception, betrayal, utter hate! Those were the true natures of Uchiha, they were sickening! Even thinking about it made Kurama's chakra froth and seethe, but now it was a hundred times worse because he was forced to sit and watch all of it!

"Naruto, pay close attention to what he's saying, I'll be quizzing you later on why it's all bullshit."

They were all hypocritical fakes, every last one of them useless! That's why Kurama didn't even regret attacking Konoha, even the death of just one Uchiha was worth it!

"Yes, Kyuubi boy, see, this is what I was talking about. Man seeks peace, yet at the same time yearns for war. These are the two realms belonging solely to humanity. Thinking of peace whilst spilling blood is something that only humans-."

"Ants enslave other ants," Masanari said flatly. "And that's when they're not waging genocidal warfare against each other. Hippos are vicious murderers, dolphins make sport out of torturing baby porpoises, otters assault their wives and eat their own babies, carps eat until they collapse entire ecosystems, chimps, dolphins, seals, ducks all rape and murder not just other animals but their own kind, locusts exist-"

"AUGH-ngh!" Kurama's jailer cried in pain.

"And it's that easy to silence even the best of men," said the Uchiha as he harshly pulled on his hostage's hair. "Man yearns for war when he's strong, yet when he's weak he wants peace. And exposing that reality takes just this little pain."

How like the Uchiha to lie and kill and slink around the world pretending to be human, when actually they're only parasites trying to get closer to the best of mankind to do away with them. The gall of an Uchiha to speak as if they weren't the ones who committed the most crimes or were the most hostile to their own kind. To speak as if they are as pure as the gods themselves!

"Naruto, this is what we call confirmation bias. Next he's going to say that we're two sides of the same coin, that to protect something another must be sacrificed, as if he's not the one who caused this mess to begin with."

How like the rest of mankind to give them a chance for coexistence, then another and a dozen more, and what did they get for it? A curse upon their kind and a thousand curses upon the rest of the world!

"I wonder if you're genuine or you're just pretending to have this steel in your spine, Doctor. Curse me for a sentimental fool, but I think I'm hoping for the latter."

"And this, Naruto, is projection, when you know you're bad but instead of stopping, you choose to delude yourself into thinking everyone else is bad too because you're a coward."



"… Maybe I was wrong about you, Doctor," Uchiha said lowly. Menacingly. "I thought you to be one of the rare enlightened, but in the end even you default to petty insults. And to think that we share the same pain-"

"If you dare say I should sympathise with you murdering my entire family because of a thirteen year old brat's decade-long tantrum over not getting the girl, I will fucking lose it, I swear to God."

Kurama gaped.

His seething chakra stalled. The outside seemed to teeter. A madman's audacity sputtered in the face of a completely different madman's audacity. Different audacity. Different madman. Curse all the children of man, Kurama didn't want to care enough for them to mess with his mind, not by force and certainly not by accident! What did he do to deserve this?

It was to this frozen tableau of fatally clashing beliefs that Uzumaki Naruto opened his fool mouth. "WHAT? No… That's impossible! The Fourth would never get beat by someone so lame!"



Kurama facepalmed.

The outside world was seemingly frozen under the weight of judgment being meted.

"… Alright, brat. That's enough out of you." Darkness encroached on the seal and Kurama snarled, flooded his jailer's chakra with his and yanked. The brat snapped awake before he was even half-way asleep. "Oh, the fox is paying attention?" Uchiha yanked Naruto's head around by the hair-

"Kid, I sincerely advise against what you're planning."

-and suddenly that hated eye bore through Naruto's straight into Kurama's, those hated eyes-

Naruto screamed.

The seal shook, foreign blood came alive along the boy's spine, bloodline wrenched-

Uchiha Obito jumped back in shock, his mask shattered to splinters as he turned intangible just barely in time to avoid his face being also split in twain by the golden chains that burst out of Naruto's back, Hyuuga Hiashi stumbled mid-leap as Masanari surged forward in the colour of stars and kicked through the intangible Uchiha-

"KURAMA, BRING ME INTO THE SEAL!"

-and covered Naruto just as the Uchiha became solid again and grabbed him.

Crap, Kurama thought as he automatically complied.

But despite that the Uchiha grabbed Masanari first, Kurama's chakra reached him anyway, and suddenly both man and child were in the dark with him.

What just happened? Kurama wondered, thoughts reeling as he pulled himself and the other two all the way into the seal where mind worked fastest. It felt like an injury, but it wasn't-it was-internal bleeding but not the brat's blood, what-? Those chains! The brat had those accursed chains, those chains that could bind him and seal his chakra away, those accursed chains, the hells and heavens alike damn you Kushina!

"-re are we, what is this place, it's gross-" splash, splash, splash went the water as the man ran almost as fast as the brat's mouth. "- I was so scared but I knew you'd save me, you always save me, you can do anything but why did he call me the Kyuubi brat, I'm not a rabbit-"

"NEITHER AM I YOU MORONIC FLESHBAG!"

Naruto screamed in fright, finally looking up. He gasped.

"Kurama!" Masanari skid to a halt, put Naruto down and walked over to squeeze between the bars, what the hell is he completely craz - "I need you to teach me ninshu!"

Kurama stared stupidly at the extended fist. "What did you just say?"

"I need you to teach me ninshu!" Masanari couldn't get through so he gave up with a huff and squeezed until his fist was past the bars. Pointing up. At him. What. "Quick, we don't have time to waste! You're Hagoromo's firstborn, he must've taught you how to do it, that's how you know everything that's been happening despite being locked up in here, right? You couldn't have heard me call you, you just know!"

Kurama shied away. "A-are you mad, human? My chakra will burn you to ash!"

"How? Your thing is wind, not fire, and you're just one giant chunk of Yang anyway!"

Kurama gaped at the madman, absolutely stumped.

It was to this frozen tableau of utter batshit lunacy that Uzumaki Naruto opened his fool mouth. "Oh my god, it's the Moon Rabbit!"

Kurama saw white and slammed his claws into the seal with a roar. "I'll kill you!"

"AAAH!" Naruto jumped behind Masanari to hide. "U-uncle, it's the Kyuubi!"

"Naruto, go find a corner to sit in or something, grownups are talking."

"What?! But-"

Kurama roared.

It was the strongest, loudest, most cataclysmic outburst he'd had since that night, the water practically exploded away until the floor was exposed for the first time since his sealing.

Uzumaki just cringed and hid behind Hanzo harder. "Uncle! It's the Kyuubi! The Kyuubi's here, he showed up out of nowhere to bully me! Make him stop!"

"Oh for fuck's sake!" Masanari wrenched himself out from between the bars, picked Naruto up, walked ten paces away, dropped him and said. "Stay here or I'm taking Gama away."

Naruto gasped. "You can't!"

But the brat did as he was told and soon Masanari was back to reaching through the bars. "Kurama." He said seriously, looking up in the fox's eyes. "Please."

"No!" Kurama spat reflexively, not even sure why. "You're mad! You don't know what you're asking!"

"Obviously, I'm taking a leap of faith here!"

"Faith?" Kurama's ears flattened. "In me? You're even crazier than I thought!"

"In the risk being worth it, God, why couldn't that moron wait a few more months before springing this, now I can't coax you into it properly, fuck my life."

"Coax me?" Kurama hissed. "Coax me?! Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am to be coaxed into anything, I should eat you, the audacity-!"

"Why are you so mean!?" Naruto wailed from where he fell on his butt in the water. "I don't care if you scream at me, but Uncle's the greatest! Why are you even here? And you even tried to kill me and that's rude, trying to kill people! What did we ever do to you!?"

"You're my prison! Why would I ever be happy to see you?!"

"What do you mean?! I've never met you before in my life!"

Masanari banged his head against the bar. "Ume, why are all the children in my life complete morons?"

"Morons? Children?" Kurama snarled, itching to skewer the man. "Children?!" It would be so easy, he was right there. "You forget your place, human. You forget who you're speaking to."

"No, I really don't." Masanari turned his back on him and walked away. Stopped in front of the jailer. Took a knee with his back to him. Within reach. Within his claws' stabbing distance. He could stab him, claw at him, kill him, cripple his body here and outside, he could break his mind on his razor talons, how dare he, how dare he, how could he, why-?

"Naruto. Obito is completely wrong about everything. The world without us humans would be kill or be killed. That's the only law that rules in nature. The best growing tree will starve all others near it. A cat won't stop playing with its food because the mouse might hurt. No goat considers that eating plants all the way to the root means less to eat later. No predator animal goes hunting thinking 'I'll only hunt what I need'. Locusts would eat everything if they could. Every beast, big or small, seeks territory, food, and to multiply without end, and the only reason they all fail is because they either run out of food or become the food. And there's no limit to the creatures that hurt and kill and eat their own. The only thing we're guilty of is winning nature's contest. Of everything on this world, we're the only ones who ever think 'wolves and snakes have been our bane forever, but we should still be careful not to eradicate them.' All the reason in the world, all wisdom and patience, all long-term consideration that exists on this Earth, all mercy comes from us."

"Some apes do it too!" Kurama spat in his desperation to distract himself from the urge to murder the man, he was no base beast to be ruled by urges. "And-and elephants! And otters play with anyone and… you're forgetting summons too!"

"Exceptions prove the rule!" Masanari shot back over his shoulder. "And I'm building a whole theory for summons, or I was before Uchiha Obito decided to crash into my life." Masanari turned back to Naruto. "Nephew, uncle loves you."

Naruto flinched back, teary-eyed. "N-no!" He pushed Masanari away, why-? "Y-you don't get to say that j-just because some bad guy showed up! I'm gonna earn it fair and square!"

"Oh Naruto, that's… I don't have time to get into why that's a bad way to live and it's some parts my fault. There's a crazy man out there who wants to burn the world because an evil jerk got to him when he was having the worst day of his life. I know you don't owe Kurama any sympathy, but we can't let Obito enslave him again. I need you to protect him alright?"

What.

The certifiable maniac kissed Naruto on the forehead, stood and strode back to the bars, his Yin pouring into the seal with every step, infusing the air, pushing through the bars at Kurama, probing, whipping, latching and grasping uselessly in a bid to do things it was too knotted to do even if it any idea how, but the intent was so clear it was searing- "You dare?!" Kurama was livid, the man presumed to force the issue, he dared think he'd just bare his whole being to anyone, for any reason, just because he- "You have the arrogance of the Uchiha and the stubborn pride of the Senju themselves! One moment you're driven by logic and the next you throw it to the wind because of the most perverted sentimentality. Do you even know what you're asking? My hatred is all your kind's hatred piled up over centuries, every last grain of spite I ever felt that your kind felt is one I carry with me. It will break your mind! Would you become like the Uchiha outside, a slave to your own suffering?"

"That won't happen."

"You would still be you, but more fool, more mad. No restraint, no respect, your woe would have no end. Drunk on the pain of your victory you'll spare no thought for those who've suffered for your spoils, those who'll suffer for crossing your path and being left in your wake, betrayed and hopeless, if you do anything at all but lie and die of a broken spirit. Why ask me this? You've always stayed your course, pursued your heart's desires with eyes unclouded, even deprived and robbed of all your just reward at every turn, would you throw all that away, and for what? If it's the winner's justice you want, it will be fleeting, and this will not earn it regardless, you'll only be another one of the many woebegotten, silenced, stripped of voice and claim, not even a footnote in history!"

Kurama grit his teeth as the man before him waited for him to have his say as if he wasn't being blasted with a thousand years of underserved vitriol.

"…If it were anyone else, I would gladly break them. Why you, human? Is it not enough that the madman outside drove me to butcher your family and so many others? Would you have me finish the job? Would you have me start with the only one in your worthless species who restored our names and legacy back into this world that has spat upon us for so long? Would you throw my clemency back in my face?" Would you add to my suffering by making me the unwilling destroyer of even that?

"Oh Kurama." Did-did he just pity him?! "You don't understand humans any better than you father did, do you?"

"You arrogant, uppity, insufferable-!" Kurama was only half of his full self, just the leftover Yang of the world of yore with the Yin sealed in the Death God's stomach, but he was still himself and he had his own soul, he had Yin all his own. "Fine then! Let history burn once again upon a human's whim, see where it takes you."

Kurama loosened his chakra, connecting it to Masanari's with all the consideration he showed him, which was none of it. His father's teachings were to share chakra so that people could share spiritual energies with one another. Ninshu was meant to allow people to understand themselves and each other without communication, to lead the world into an era of peace. Never mind that complete understanding only made every other people dislike each other even more. Never mind that a single person could have so much pain, so much delusion, so much hate inside them as to poison all others that connected to them on any level. Even the best and worthiest of mankind were tainted, even here and now when he was baring himself to a demon beast, even he had a canker in his spirit. A devouring void that used to be a young, innocent soul far too long removed from the Pure World. What kind of man would be haunted by his own spawn like this, what had he done that his own son would turn to weighing and devouring his very spirit? If Kurama held anything against his father, it was that he believed in mankind when he shouldn't have-

A life lived until Kurama's coming ruined it. Another life lived, far different, older. A different time. A different world where no wonders existed save those that sprung from humanity's polluted dreams. Nations, visions, prejudice, machines that made it to the bottom of the ocean and beyond the sky into the cosmos itself. Carnage of a scale even Kurama had trouble fathoming, millions languishing in trenches, falling by the tens of thousands to mad charges and typhus and gangrene and starvation from ego and anger and logistical failures the entire time. And the world they bought in blood and lives… It languished under the perpetual threat of annihilation by inconceivable weapons, and even then it barely lasted. The cowardly and degenerate debased it through the loyalty of the strong and brave who lived for coin. With each generation the lives of mankind became more and more hollow. More and more empty. Until the only escape was in the fancies of imagination. Art. Books. Moving images. Still images turned moving images backed by voice and song depicting epiphanies that showed Kurama's world with terrifying accuracy, from the far past to a horrible alternate present and well into the future.

For the first time since ninjutsu came to be, Kurama joined a mere man in ninshu and it was his will that utterly broke in the face of the revelation.

He stumbled back and lost his footing. His flank and shoulder hit the stone floor with a splash. His breath was as erratic as the ripples in the red chakra making up his body. Red. And black. Flakes of gold flitting in and out of view as impossible anticipation warred with unfolding shock and existential crisis.

"That… That's a lot…"

Kurama blearily pried his eyes open, though his ears stayed flat against his neck and he stumbled back instead of forward when he tried to stand, his chakra and soul churning so violently that his whole body shivered.

Masanari was climbing to his knees, wet and pale and his eyes dreadfully clear as he bore the resentful suffering of ages of an immortal demon and just… pushed it all aside to deal with later because he had more urgent problems to worry about at the moment.

"How-" Kurama's scratchy voice caught in his throat, but he couldn't not force the words out. "How are you not catatonic?"

Masanari peered into the darkness of the seal and gave a feeble smile full of sickly indulgence. "Us humans have a cap on how depressed we can get, and I was all the way down for years. This is easily the worst I've ever felt, but I've been here before, at rock bottom."

No. No, he had been lower. Ninshu showed the truth of it with inescapable, wretched clarity, Masanari wasn't lying but he was wrong. Depression… Kurama thought he knew what it was, but he didn't. Hadn't. Even just the memory of it felt like he'd fall eternally into a gnawing pit of despair. If Kurama didn't have his rage to fill that void instead he didn't know what he'd do. If he didn't have all of man's negative emotions to make him seethe and writhe while impaled inside Kushina for so long, despair would surely have taken him. Accursed man, Kurama didn't want to be grateful to any suffering, damn him to the darkest hell. Damn him for being wrong, this wasn't rock bottom. It was close, but fell short. Something was different. Something had changed.

Masanari crawled away through the ankle-deep water and knelt next to Naruto's unconscious form. "I guess even just the proximity was too much for you, kid. Still so young…"

"How can you still – the first thing you do, compassion, here, now after what-? How-?" The leech. There had been something in the man's Yin, a leech inside his spirit. But it was gone now, just a raw, gaping wound in the knotted mess of his spirit. Kurama struggled to pick through the terrifying impossibilities that had completely shattered his beliefs, but he was sure it had been there, just before the… the…

"Suffering leads to compassion," Masanari said weakly. "Sometimes. And sometimes compassion prevents suffering. Hopefully." The man took a shuddering breath and- "Dammit, Naruto's still too young, too frail, chakra not homogenous enough, activating the chains guaranteed to have repercussions, figures it would be a bloody Uchiha that forced my hand, fuck." The man slumped and wiped a hand down his face. "Oh well. If contingencies were perfect, they'd be plan A."

"… What are you?"

The man huffed and shook his head. He didn't answer. Didn't seem to be all there himself.

"What have you done to me?" Kurama staggered to stand but he didn't approach the bars. The seal. He… he was - "What is all this – what was all – what I saw, it's insanity, it makes no sense!"

"Don't worry about it too much," the man grunted as he took off his jacket and folded it along with Naruto's shirt into a makeshift pillow for the child.

"Don't worry about- I'm having an existential crisis!" And now Kurama was feeling embarrassed too, embarrassed, him! He'll kill him, he'll- "You-that life, that world – you think you saw the future! You saw this world, somehow, what you know-what I witnessed…"

Masanari sat back on his heels and breathed slowly, trying to get his trembling under control as he curled his arms into his chest as if to stem the wretched void in his spirit that Kurama had so viciously ripped back open. Around them, the water began to ripple as the connection keeping all three tethered inside frayed along with the jailer's encroaching absence as the dark closed in.

Kurama snarled. "Why did you do this to me!?" He hated how harshly his voice broke at the end. "You… you know the future! You showed me the future, you entertained yourself watching my future, all this world's future, what am I supposed to do with this?"

"Nothing right now, I hope," Masanari said weakly. "You can think about it until you run out of ideas. Then forget about it. Something will dawn on you after a while. Do that, whatever it is. Ignore every impulse between now and then. Everyone except me being rash and crazy is what got us into this mess, don't be one of them too. Please."

"Fuck you!" Kurama roared, taking what refuge he could in bravado as gold and black burned into and out of each other all over his frame at the man's earnest plea. He felt like he would puke, even the gold and silver brothers hadn't made him so sick. "Don't beg, it's disgusting!" But the way the black bloomed into gold for a moment gave light to his true feelings. "I mean it!"

"I believe you."

"I'm not going to add to madness in the world!" Kurama roared, his limbs moving ahead of him as he started pacing furiously back and forth, his tails all but causing storms as he moved. "You're crazy! Every one of you humans, you're all sick. Repulsive. I can't stand you! You think showing me the future will make me help you?! Your future sucks!"

"Alright."

"There's going to be another war! And everything up to there is going to be a total mess that nobody will care about until it's too late, because of the blissful illusion they build over the seedy underbelly of this place! By a perverted womaniser who abandoned his chief responsibility on a dumb old man's say so! Your best words went in one ear and came down the other, why do you think I'll have better luck?! You, cursed with knowledge, all your kin are dead, I killed them all, and more children will be dead from here onwards, there's going to be terrorists coming for us, we don't even have that word here yet you bastard!"

"Okay."

"The lunatic outside is mind-controlling the strongest among your wretched kind! My father's eyes will be slaved to the lunatic outside! Your future would have me sympathise with that delusional nutcase, fuck you and fuck him! And the rest of the Uchiha too! How the hell did that stupid ANBU child live that long, never mind his illness?! Killing all of your relatives except for your favorite is somehow forgivable as long as you have some masked old man telling you to do it? It means you can then delude yourself into thinking it was a self-sacrifice, are you crazy?! And then everyone else also believes it! Your Hokage and everyone else too! Even when it's only a sacrifice of literally everyone else but yourself, why should I lift a finger to help any of them- any of you when you're all so… so… ARGH!"

The seal shook at his howl the hardest it ever had, the scraps of golden chakra casting away from him so the rest of all of him could burn vicious, foul, red and black, as terrible as the fate of all those monsters once he gets his claws into them.

"And Uzumaki Naruto," Kurama's throat rumbled with disbelieving rage. "This brat. He'll make grand boasts and never follow through because he'll waste his life chasing acknowledgment from a second-rate Uchiha. And when that Uchiha successfully beats him to death and he only survives because I save him multiple times in ten minutes, this brat will be so amazed that the Uchiha chickened out at the last second that he'll see him as the one who acknowledged him the most! Because it's not like his godfather taught him his father's legacy and two different Hokage chose to put all their faith in him to the point they willingly died for it. Uzumaki Naruto will even forgive the genocide of his own species as long as the madman who commits it feels a little bad afterwards! I will never become willing partners with someone like that! I'd have to go mad first! I'd have to be mind-controlled again somehow, it's the only explanation! It's insane! You're insane! I'm not! I'm not crazy, I'm not going crazy like the rest of you, you hear me human?!"

Kurama came out of his tirade breathing heavily, his fur bristling like spears as black and gold flowed over it like liquid life turned half to poison.

"It doesn't matter," Hanzo said. "In the end, you still saved the world."

The fox faltered.

Laboriously but strangely smoothly at the same time, the man climbed to his feet. "My name is Masanari Hanzo. In the life before this one I was Miron Cadáin O'Conroy. My likes are clam stew, sunshine and peace and quiet. I dislike nagging, extroverts and liars. My dream for the future is to fix this world's schizophrenic technological base in time for the follow-up invasion of Kaguya's siblings. And I always thought that Naruto was never the hero of that story." The man turned to look into the cage. "You didn't put the fight you could have against Hashirama even mind controlled. You only attacked Konoha because you were mind controlled again. You didn't try to kill Naruto or his parents until you saw they meant to seal you back. You won Naruto's battle against Haku. You won him the battle against Hyuuga Neji. You won him the battle against Shukaku. You saved his life and won him the battle against Uchiha Sasuke up until he threw it. You fought off Orochimaru, you convinced Sasuke not to murder Naruto right after, you saved his arm after Kakuzu – his one single triumph of strength, and even that was bought with all the endurance and chakra your seal gave him. And you literally carried him through the entire Fourth Ninja War. You were the hero of that story, not him."

Kurama had no idea what to say.

"I'm not asking you to help me save anyone. I know you'll do the right thing when the time comes. Of everyone I know of in this world, you're the only one who never failed when it counted."

Kurama slumped. "I… You're insane"

"Hopefully temporarily," Hanzo grunted. "Especially if I do go ahead and die in the next few minutes." But his gaze and tone both melted back into that earnest sincerity Kurama so dreaded now. "Thank you, Kurama. Really. Your father should be proud of you, and if he's not, I'll kick him in the nuts on your behalf when I see him in heaven. Forget Indra or Asura, his Heir should have been you. None of them knew what the hell they were doing anyway."

Kurama sunk into the water with his eyes buried in his arms. "Why couldn't you just let the Uchiha all die?"

But Masanari batted aside his poor deflection like it wasn't even a fly. "It's not easy being cursed with knowledge. I'm sorry, but I couldn't trust this to anyone else."

"Go to hell." Even after what Kurama did to him, even though this didn't even begin to make up for how Kurama hurt him, Masanari still looked at him like all his beliefs had just been validated. What was he supposed to do with this?

"Power circuit established, amperage steady at 66, paralysis success."

What was he talking about now?

Water waded. Kurama watched as the man dropped to his knees next to Naruto again and… and his chakra, his spiritual energy flowed forth from him, crudely but well enough now that he and the boy were joined in ninshu just well enough, for a moment.

"Adamantine Sealing Chains… discerned."

With a grim final smile, Masanari Hanzo disappeared from the seal, back to the real world and the Uchiha maniac wanting to murder him. Or worse.

Kurama snarled and jumped to his feet. "Damn you!" Kurama hated humans, but he hated it even more that one always showed up who made him reconsider, who made him trust in an all new, vain hope for the future. "Curse you!" He hurled the last of the golden chakra away before it dissipated, before he took it back and it turned again into the seething, bitter red that made up his whole being now. Let the purified Yang of his remorse fall where it may.

Let the ghosts in the seal hide from him now.

"Damn you," he faltered out, not knowing who he was cursing anymore. "Why couldn't you have lived during my father's time?"

Hanzo sprouted claws, slashed the clothes under his arm with a blast of smoke while Uchiha couldn't move, why-?

BANG

The nail shooter blew a hole through Uchiha's chest and straight through Zetsu's face.


Part three of this chapter is available on Patreon, Ko-fi and Subscribestar. Many thanks to the gift economy for making it so the hope that I'll be able to update this monthly from now on is actually a realistic notion again.
 
Chapter 12: The Grit of the Sublimely Accomplished (III)

Karmic Acumen

Well-known member
A/N: Do not fuck with the white mage.



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"-. Hyuuga Hiashi, Jonin of Konhagakure, Head of the Hyuuga Clan .-"​


"Nobody move or the Kyuubi brat gets it."

I may have made a mistake.

"I advise against whatever it is you're planning."

Hyuuga Hiashi found himself in the unenviable position of having to reconsider all of his choices.

Perhaps not all his life's choices, but his actions of the past day required an urgent reassessment at the very least. Certainly all his choices of the past ten minutes.

"Doctor, I'm surprised at you. Condescending to other people, why, one might mistake you for someone else!"

I did not underestimate the enemy.

"At least it would be other people mistaking my identity and not me."

The enemy had been completely blindsided. The enemy endured the strongest Hyuuga technique seemingly unscathed. The defense was some sort of living second skin technique. The same technique was responsible for his perfect disguise. A second enemy had been lurking nearby without the Byakuygan catching the barest sign.

"Whatever could you be insinuating, doctor? Was it not all of you who mistook me for the poor gatewarden? Besides, I don't remember making any claims to any identity, now did I?"

Now Konoha's Jinchuuriki had a knife to his throat because of it.

"Naruto," Masanari began speaking tongues. "This is the bad man who forced Kurama to kill your mom and dad and the village."

It took a self-taught civilian to avert the same from happening to Hiashi's own daughter and all other clan heirs.

"What?! He's-AH!"

I underestimated my allies and overestimated myself.

"Speaking in tongues now, Doctor?" Uchiha Obito said idly while twisting Naruto's head by the hair. "Don't you think that's rude?"

Masanari had comprehended the situation before anyone else, but Hiashi had been too self-absorbed to recognize his all too deliberate de-escalation.

"Kid, your keeper just gutted me, you have no room to talk."

All of which led to the man being gored through the gut by wood release.

"Did he? It doesn't seem to impair you much." The black and white creature began to slither out of the ground behind the enemy, arm missing and a massive gouge in its torso slowly knitting together like black tar. "That was quite the feat you pulled off too, as far as it goes. How many Celestial Gates did you have to open just to match a mere shunshin?"

Eight Trigrams Time Distension.

It was beyond wasteful to accelerate one's personal time just to stand there, but the only thing more impossible than Senju Hashirama's technique re-emerging – in the hands of enemies – was seeing Masanari's gut wound closing as he talked. That, too was, a technique only ever exhibited by the First Hokage, though leaving the surface layer bloody and torn was subterfuge that only the Byakugan let Hiashi see through. All this on top of seeing him open all Celestial Gates at once, something that should have taken considerable time, something that should have been fatal regardless of circumstances, and now the others... The Uchiha and his own clan members were frozen mid-way through absconding, the Ino-Shika-Cho trio were just as still in the face of Obito's threat, there were abnormal movements in Nara Shikaku's throat…

Subvocalisation.

Hyuuga Hiashi kept his eyes pinned on Uchiha Obito, but it was the Jonin Commander he paid closest attention to as Eight Trigrams Time Distension finally ran its course.

"Naruto, stop squirming. You're throwing me off."

Nara had strategically made sure to land in a spot where Hiashi impaired Uchiha's line of sight.

"Yes, brat, stop squirming and watch, your uncle and I are about to show you how the world works."

Orders? Hiashi signed behind his sleeve.

"Kid, you don't want to get into this with me."

"See, fox brat? Your uncle wants peace, but at the same time he's just aching to charge at me in a flash and hurt me like he hurt guruguru. In the end, the life of humans always comes to this."

Premeditated stunt, Nara Shikaku conveyed. Hiashi took careful note of his throat movements while Masanari bravely endured the missing nin's galling soliloquy that followed. Trash-talking too weak, hostile not even trying, likely distraction, presume enemy backup imminent, will pretend retreat at first opportunity to check for other insurgents, Uchiha have perimeter, stall. The Hyuuga chief had much less trouble than he wished in pretending he was giving the two all his attention, as opposed to the jonin-commander whose plan finally began to show its shape while-

"And this, Naruto, is projection, when you know you're bad but instead of stopping, you choose to delude yourself into thinking everyone else is bad too because you're a coward."



"Maybe I was wrong about you, Doctor." Uchiha Obito said as Masanari's insolent choice to use him as an abject lesson for a seven-year-old child finally made him lose his composure. "I thought you to be one of the rare enlightened, but in the end even you default to petty insults. And to think that we share the same pain-"

"If you dare say I should sympathise with you murdering my entire family because of a thirteen year old brat's decade-long tantrum over not getting the girl, I will fucking lose it, I swear to God."

Hiashi barely managed not to lose his composure like Chouza and half of everyone else when Masanari literally threw Uchiha Obito's trauma back in his face. Was he serious, was it even true, were the enemy's motivations truly so petty, what kind of world was this, how was he supposed to do any stalling after this, was this man suicidal-?

"WHAT? No… That's impossible! The Fourth would never get beat by someone so lame!"

It was to the frozen tableau of clashing beliefs derailed by Uzumaki Naruto's fool mouth that Hyuuga Hiashi felt his mouth drop open.

"… Alright, brat. That's enough out of you." Uchiha gripped Uzumaki from behind his ears and Hiashi tensed, his Byakugan saw exactly how chakra injected into the child through the thumb, he was going to – Hiashi blinked away red as the child snapped awake before he was even half asleep. "Oh, the fox is paying attention?" Uchiha yanked Naruto's head around by the hair-

"Kid, I sincerely advise against what you're planning."

Ushiha Obito's Sharingan stared into-

Uzumaki screamed.

Uchiha Obito jumped back in shock, the orange mask shattered to splinters as he turned intangible, just barely in time to avoid his face being also split in twain by the golden chains that burst out of Uzumaki, Ino-Shika-Chou leaped back and out of sight as fast as body flicker could take them, the Uchiha clan and guests scattered with the children - Now-agh! Hiashi stumbled mid-leap. My eyes! – Masanari surged forward in an eye-searing flash and kicked through the intangible Uchiha-

"KURAMA, BRING ME INTO THE SEAL!"

-and covered Uzumaki with his body just as the Uchiha became solid again and grabbed him.

The Gates, they're blinding, what did he just say – no, no time! "Eight trigrams-!"

Obito froze, choked, he trembled impotently, eyes bulging against the white crust that covered half his face as arteries and veins throbbed beneath his crumpled skin, a massive amount of chakra flared in his heretofore hidden second Sharingan only to vanish just as suddenly, Hiashi struggled to see it all clearly even in time dilation on account of being flash-blinded again, somehow the nin was frozen stiff even as Masanari tore open his own clothes with bone claws – the Kaguya bloodline? – seal smoke, some manner of piped tool fell into his hand from a seal on his armpit, Masanari pointed it behind under his arm, what was that supposed – the enemy is paralysed, now's my chance!

BANG

The sound of thunder blew a hole through Uchiha's chest and straight through the thing's face.

Hiashi flinched. I only saw a streak. His disbelief nearly brought him crashing on his face as he skidded to a halt between Uchiha and the creature. Even with the Hyuuga space-time technique I only saw a streak, had I been slightly faster – you are within the range of my divination!

"Two Hundred and Fifty-Six Palms!"

One hundred and twenty eight on Uchiha, one hundred and twenty eight on the thing, the satisfying staccato of crumpled flesh and shattered wood landed each and every time in as little as it took Masanari to whirl around and now Masanari had Uchiha by the hand while – don't point that thing at me!

Hiashi ducked.

"GET DOWN!"

BANG

BANG

The rock gun jutsu blew Uchiha Obito's Sharingan eyes out the back of his skull, once, twice and he was dead, Masanari just killed him, killed without a scrap of killing intent, his enemy's blood and brains were spraying his face after his first kill and there was nary a flinch even in time dilation, what kind of mind-?

BANG

The shock of everyone and the thing behind him was like physical weight as the rest of the head of wood and tar blew to pieces.

A weapon with no chakra, Hiashi's thoughts raced as he rushed to reposition through the molasses that air became in dilated time, the blood and brain spray above him already too wide to avoid as Time Distension elapsed, omnitenketsu chakra burst to deflect gore, a weapon that shoots c-rank earth techniques with no chakra, no, no mere c-rank, the speed does not compare! "HAH!"

"Guh!"

The flesh and wood creature folded over his palm strike, Hiashi may not see its chakra system but the Gentle Fist could be a misnomer in times of need-

BANG BANG went through Obito's heart and his head again. "Don't let your guard down, he might still respawn! He's only vulnerable to Yin Release!"

He might what? But the Byakugan clearly saw the Uchiha Clan head blanch on the roof behind him.

"Izanagi?" Fugaku whispered behind his hand, inaudibly but a trifle to spot to the Hiashi's eyes. "How-with what Sharingan? No, can't risk it!" His hands flew through signs.

Damn the Uchiha and their secrets!

"Scatter!" Yelled Fugaku's second.

A gigantic Fireball descended from the rooftops.

"No don't, FUCK!"

Hiashi was already mid-leap when he saw Masanari jump over Uzumaki and not run.

Back on the rooftop, Fugaku blanched.

… We keep treating him like a ninja!

The Supreme Fireball Technique slammed where Hiashi had been with all the physical force that only a ninjutsu master could impart on fire.

The fireball exploded violently, red and gold flames detonated like one of the Four-Tail's magma bombs he'd once had the misfortune of facing, the grass vaporised, the lake's water beyond frothed backwards in an upsurge of steam, the earth crumbled and cratered, charred blacker than black just from the pyroclasm, Hiashi had to make one full kaiten spin the moment he landed just to rebuff the heat, assess ally status – of all the times for Masanari to become completely invisible to Byakuygan, confound that man! "Masanari!"

Movement in the flames not where the Uzumaki child had been.

"Eight Trigrams Vacuum Palm!"

Pressurised air blasted a funnel straight through the flames and the black and white creature.

Only for the swaying thing to catch itself as if it wasn't missing its spine and snake between five additional fire techniques at Obito's charred corpse.

Hiashi body flickered, but already knew he wouldn't be in ti-

An Adamantine Sealing Chain burst out of the ground right in the thing's path, two, three in an instant, even the fourth was dodged just barely – "URK!" – the creature's rasp of pain was satisfying but Hiashi had to lurch aside so he wasn't also caught in the next fifteen – no, not so many, it was the same chains bursting, growing, folding over and over through their prey and then back, even as others did the same to the Uchiha's carcass, once, twice, five, nine in all, how could Uzumaki – no, not the Uzumaki boy, the Byakuygan had no problem seeing through the ground to spot the end of those – wait, the Uzumaki boy himself was invisible to the Byakugan as well now, how? "Masanari," Hiashi grunted to himself as the strain of too many space-time techniques made itself known. "What can't you do?"

The black tar poured out of the creature and whipped itself at the corpse, the chains held firm, the sludge splattered past in loose chunks, moved as one in a chaos of wiggling threads, how, there was barely a palm's space between the chains- "Vacuum-!" -

Crack.

Hiashi had to strafe away from a Chakra Chain bursting from the ground at his feet, Masanari why?

SPLAT

The black tar splattered itself over a giant tongue.

What.

Gama the Toad fell down from the sky right on Uchiha's corpse, its tongue a wall wreathed in blue light, where did it come from? The Byakugan didn't see it but it could before, another thing he didn't even register vanish from his perception, what was happening here?

"Croak."

Hyuuga Hiashi stared in incomprehension at what he was seeing.

"Curses, what now?!" The black tar shrieked with Hiashi's own outrage.

The giant tongue wrapped around the living sludge and yanked

"Guh!" The black sludge gargled as it spread and hooked itself into the ground. "You fool, this won't work, no matter how much of me you destroy, I can always come back-" The ground began glowing as well, dislodging the black ropes, motes of blue and gold light rising up from the charred earth, arcs of light shooting from one to the next while black drops wriggled inside. "Wha-no, no this is ridiculous, by my mother, how are you doing this, how many tricks do you have, what is this, how are you even controlling this mindless beast, you – ninshu?! Ninshu, that fool boy's idiotic dream, you dare think you can use this against me, me when I'm the one who-!"

With one last wrench, the screaming ooze vanished down the toad's maw.



"Ribbit."

Around the beast, the world burned.

"… Masanari?" Hiashi didn't even know if he was addressing the fire or the toad anymore.

Gama gurgled.

The toad flinched, its stomach wriggled, its eyes crossed as its face twisted in nether pains, the blue shine began to flicker and shimmer wildly on its skin, the lightning arcs shooting over its form began to spew chaotically everywhere – SQUELCH – the black ooze spurt out through its nostrils, pried its jaws open, burst out from its mouth, even its eyes seemed about to pop out as black seeped from behind them and the sounds-

"- I'll not be food for some frog's guts-!"

A sheet of blue light rose from the earth.

It fluttered through the conjoined abomination, its surface silk-like and gossamer-thin, soundless, almost languid, and where it passed everything else fell still.

Gama swallowed hard, turned around and jumped into the fire.

Hiashi made an aborted move, but where the flames didn't stop him, the chains did. A muffled thump came from within the conflagration but nothing else. Fugaku landed beside him, his face showing none of the pride that would normally be warranted after displaying such a fire technique that broke ground and still burned after so long with no fuel save naked earth. The Uchiha Clan head breathed out, then looped his fingers in front of his lips as if about to cast again, but instead inhaled.

Over a long, tense fifteen seconds, all the fire-aspected chakra in the conflagration returned to the source.

The flames thinned and began to go out. Shapes began to distinguish themselves again, then all the colors other than burning red. The toad stood stiff in a translucent silk-like shell, wracked by microshivers as a rising tide of blue light motes flowed through it from the ground. The Uzumaki boy was curled up on the ground, unconscious, enclosed in a cage made of the golden chains coming out of his back, wreathed in a blue shell of light inside that that the Byakugan couldn't see, though normal sight did. Over and around the boy, Masanari was a shield of horribly burned flesh, hissing, smelling like pork as hard-charred crust crackled with his every movement. Nine glowing chains of his own stuck from his spine as the flesh visibly knitted before their eyes, rebuilding melted meat, shedding charred flesh and fabric, forming new skin, hair growing back where there was none left, Hiashi could see in real time as fused meat gave way to new sinews and skin upwards from the fingertips as he touched the toad -

Blood burst out of the man from a hundred places and travelled around him in straight angles like threads of steel, piercing the toad straight through from foot to head.

"Yin Release: Trito's Tribulation."

Almost drunkenly, the giant toad kicked a leg, wobbled, blinked, opened its mouth and-

"Uuuaaaaaaaaah!"

Hiashi twitched, he grit his teeth, found no solace in seeing Fugaku flinch as well next to him, dear gods it sounds like a baby.

Mercifully, the toad ran out of breath. But it only gurgled something and then screamed even louder.

"Uuuaaaaaaaaah!"

The animal thrashed in its impalement, writing on itself as it kicked its legs in desperation, opening its maw wide to-

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

The shriek was painful to the ears, by the highest gods, he knew frogs and toads screamed in self-defense, but he didn't-

"Rrryyyeeeeeeaaaaghhhhh…!"

That was when the black sludge began to seep out through its skin.

"UuuaAaaAaaAAH!"

The black muck came out in droplets, traces, yet somehow the desperate scream still became two.

"UuuaaaaAaa-AAAAAaaAAa!"

Beside him, Fugaku looked like he wanted to point his Sharingan at everything other than the screaming abomination.

"HuUuaAAAaaAAaooOooOOOooOOGH, oH YoU WreTCH, yOu tHInK you've WOn, yOu THInK yOU'rE DIFFerEnt, thINk yOu alONe Are DIffErENt, you'rE noT difFErENT, DON't PreTEND yOU'rE nOt TAkIng adVaNtAge of OTheRS, What do YOu EVeN thINk YOu knoW, YoU Don'T know AnyThiNG, YoU Don'T know WhAt I kNow, you DON't KNOw, You can'T kNow, The fuTuRE is NoT yOurs To Know, i deciDE WhO KnoWs, i dEcidE And It's NoT WHaT You knoW, i cREatEd this World, THE NinjA wORld iS Mine, You CAn NEvER eSCaPe, YoU Can'T ChANgE-!"

The spikes of blood pulled out of the toad with the last of the black, the tar-like creature reduced to barely enough to fill a cup's worth.

The battlefield erupted in blue light. Living plasma rose from the earth in a soundless, rustling upsurge. It converged on the center like a swarm of fireflies to surround the rambling, screaming sludge in an impervious barrier, the more arose, gathered, entering Gama, entering Masanari, wrapping around him, blending with him until Hiashi couldn't tell where he ended and the cloak of power began, the cloak that still grew outwards and upwards, iridescent, shimmering, azure like the deepest sky, up and up, taller than the buildings around them, then outward and down again to unfold over the man in the shape of a… a…

"S-susanoo?" Fugaku gasped.

A giant.

A guardian spirit, tall, muscular, dressed in helm, breastplate and armlets of a make Hiashi had never seen. The lower body diffused around its master, giving of itself to support him, protect his modesty, protect him by wrapping, fusing with him, merging in what looked impossibly like a jinchuuriki's chakra cloak and the Raikage's lightning body in one. Its face was unfathomable beneath its full face helm. And the mantle… it fell down around Masanari like a wide, tapered, protective veil. And grew. The mantle flowed outward along the ground, then further and higher through the air, enfolding everything in a shifting weave spliced from many bands, some growing forward, some rising up and back, ethereal and buoyant. They barely shifted, they didn't even flutter in the wind, instead they shimmered into sight as Hiashi watched, lightning arcs and plasma motes unseaming themselves from its outline, coming together and adding to their length as if the spectre was weaving itself into the world and out of the world in reverse.

In one hand was a spear. A second gripped a chain acting as the toad's leash. The third held a large shield in front of its master, round, see-through and impregnable. And the fourth…

The fourth hand held the writing creature in a sphere of light from which it thrashed and failed utterly to escape.

"Hiashi," Fugaku said lowly beside him, the tomoes spinning in his Sharingan eyes. "That's not chakra."

He was right, the Byakugan could see nothing – no, wait, there was something, a funnel of gold coursing here and there behind the great blue cloak, small but growing slightly and slightly more with every ebb and flow.

"Yang Release: Yemo's Sacrifice."

[The Sacrifice] lifted its spear high, then thrust down.

"WhA-!"

A shearing wind. A flash of light. The burbling scream was ran through with a sharp, ringing sound like a song as the spear pierced the sphere.

"nNnaAAAaGH!"

The tip stabbed through, gored the tar and splintered, burst in a spray of shards, strands and links of lightning fireflies that cut and ripped and burned and kept going. The shaft followed, tearing, twisting, ripping the black mass apart and twisting it on itself as it went in, eating itself along with the abomination in a churning, shrieking, crunching, crackling, storm-wrought hysteria of mutually assured destruction.

"No You cAn'T, You cAN't, You cAN't, You cAN't, You cAN't dO THis, You cAN't, I won't dIE, I CAN'T diE, nOt NOw, Not nOW I'm SO close MoTHer-!"

[The Sacrifice] did not stop until the spear was all the way inside to the end of the shaft.

"NoOooOooOO, You can NeVER cHANGe, NOthiNG WILL changE, I SeE WHAT you sEE, I kNOw what yOu KnOW, WHAT you tHINk yoU kNOw, You ThInK You kNOW BUT You DON't, i CrEAteD This WorlD, yOU are Not iTS mESSIaH, YoU Can't KiLL me, YOU FOOl I aM tHE WILL oF God, don't KiLL me, NO, NO, nOT NOw, Not nOW, I'm SO close, I'm SO close MoTHer, MoTHer, SaVe mE MoTHer, STOP, AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

With one last, bone-rattling scream, the black sludge died.

[The Sacrifice] did not stop, forfeiting an entire arm until there was naught left in the sphere besides vapour.

All fell silent, save the last gasps of the guttering flames.

Hyuuga Hiashi stood there, speechless.

Were… were the Uzumaki always so formidable?

But what was that thing, what was it rambling? Its claims, preposterous, for them to be even remotely true it would have to... How could any of it be real? What sense could one make of the world if…?

… Those drawings and stories weren't fairy tales?

"… c-c-croak…"

Masanari finally turned to face them, an opaque haze of living plasma clothing his tall, muscular frame, now fully healed once more. His gaze was unfocused but his presence more present, somehow. He pat the great toad, dispelled the chain leashing it and it seemed to rest easier. Behind him, Uzumaki Naruto remained surrounded in a glowing blue field and a cage of chains, still asleep. Above him, [The Sacrifice] regrew its arm and grasped a new spear made of the former chain's weightless mass, once more whole of body and only slightly smaller than before.

All around them, the last fire from Fugaku's Supreme Fireball finally went out.

But silence didn't return. There were other noises of battle now, muffled and out of sight, but not truly distant. Outside the passive range of his Byakugan but surely not beyond a focused scan, he needed but switch to long-range view-

"What have you done?"

Hiashi leaped and spun, landing in guard position next Masanari, facing the source of the voice almost at the same time as Fugaku did the same on the man's other side – i-impossible, how did he still live, no one could have survived that!

But there he stood, as if he'd never been touched after he lost his mask. The lone Sharingan was locked on Masanari, opened wide as if it had never been blown to paste along with his brain.

"Uchiha Obito," Masanari sounded everything but surprised as – crack! – an adamantine Sealing Chain erupted from the ground behind Uchiha Obito and came out through his front. "How's the heart?"

Slowly, in a stupor, Uchiha Obito looked down and brought a hand to his chest. It passed through the chain like a ghost, like the rest of him, the chain was through his back and came out the front but didn't even touch him, what a ludicrous power, how was a Hyuuga supposed to fight something like that?

He's only vulnerable to Yin release.

The Hyuuga style favoured the inner path, he couldn't do more than the first step of the Sixty Four Hexagrams kinjutsu and it took time he didn't have, he had no combat iryojutsu, his genjutsu was barely any better and would be foolish to try on an Uchiha with a mastered Sharingan regardless-wait-

That eye, those aren't mere tomoes, what kind of Sharingan is that?

[The Sacrifice] brushed against him, a single sliver of its mantle passed through him for but a moment, and suddenly Hiashi felt strong. His chakra… it was returning!

Not a moment has gone by today without me having to reassess this man.

"Freedom for freedom," Masanari said next to him, not taking his eyes of the madman. His words seemed borne of some unseen weight. Above them all, [The Sacrifice] loomed like a spectre of retribution possessed of a palpable will to destroy. "And no, freeing Naruto from the shackles of ignorance doesn't count."

What did he mean? Obito's heart was as whole as the rest of him again – wait, no, something was different, a difference in shades to his Byakugan sight, not through the heart but around it, over it, he'd need to get close and focus on that area to the exclusion of all else to see properly but even from afar… The heart looked less unnatural than the rest of him now, but in a strange pattern that was not natural, almost angular. Something had changed about it, but what?

More chains burst out of the ground all around Uchiha Obito, spearing through him without harm, enclosing him and the space around him, crossing overlays, building a dome inside a dome inside a dome around him with the smallest gap just barely enough to toss a kunai through.

"Take your win and go."

Win? But he lost.

Didn't he?

The enemy stared at Masanari, silent, unmoving and untouchable. The clamour of weapons and techniques rose stronger beyond the compound's inner walls. Flashes of fire, arcs of lightning and bursts of wind began to toss dust, smoke, leaves and bodies in the air.

Hiashi watched Uchiha Obito closely, but even with his mastery of reading people augmented by the Byakugan, he couldn't tell what the half-plant manchild was thinking at all.

With a thundering roar from just five streets away, Akimichi Chouza grew into a giant so tall he blocked out the afternoon sun, tossing like ragdolls half a dozen bodies dressed in masks and black cloaks with red clouds.

The next moment, Hiashi felt the indiscriminate, mass telepathic transmission of Yamanaka Inoichi, crystal clear with first-hand memories of numbers, masks and seemings.

Uchiha Obito stared. Just stared with that lone, bizarre Sharingan eye, not one flicker of chakra to suggest he was using techniques or whatever else. Looked from Chouza to Masanari and back.

Twice.

Then...

"Orochimaru can have you."

With but a ripple from his lone eye, the man was gone.

Hyuuga Hiashi faltered. Across from Masanari, Fugaku did the same before he began scanning the area closely with the Sharingan. Masanari, too, seemed to be doing something, though Hiashi could barely tell based on what he previously observed of the man when he turned his thoughts inward. Doing his own part, Hiashi scoured the area with the Byakugan and found no trace of the interloper, even among the other foes after a careful scan around him with long-range sight.

The fight had concluded. The enemy had fled. So why did he feel like nothing at all had been resolved? No, that, at least, was easy to answer.

A battle Hiashi had started was ended by a technical noncombatant. The same noncombatant had to suffer all the retaliation that might have otherwise resulted in the worst of personal loss for everyone there. At the hands of an enemy Hiashi's eyes didn't see. In service of the enemy his eyes did see, to the exclusion of all else despite that he should have known better.

Sharingan, evolved Sharingan, intangibility, resurrection, and now teleportation as well, a technique superior to even that of the Fourth and Second Hokages themselves, as if the First Hokage's legendary ninjutsu was not already disastrous all by itself in the hands of an adversary.

What a monstrous enemy.


Chapter 13 is available on Patreon, Ko-fi and Subscribestar.
 

Simonbob

Well-known member
I'm a little irratated that your science bro is stupid powerful.

I'm sure you can explain it. It might just be how long it's been since I read the rest, but..... I remember when I got into fights as a kid.

There's a reason why those who train for conflict are better at it than those who don't, and a large part of that is the sheer confusion that a complex fight generates. And your guy's a scientist.


He's cool, in all sorts of ways. But, being able to deal with a battle to the death out of nowhere is something entirely different.


I'm not saying don't do this. Just pointing out what I see.
 

Karmic Acumen

Well-known member
I'm a little irratated that your science bro is stupid powerful.

I'm sure you can explain it. It might just be how long it's been since I read the rest, but..... I remember when I got into fights as a kid.

There's a reason why those who train for conflict are better at it than those who don't, and a large part of that is the sheer confusion that a complex fight generates. And your guy's a scientist.


He's cool, in all sorts of ways. But, being able to deal with a battle to the death out of nowhere is something entirely different.


I'm not saying don't do this. Just pointing out what I see.
The ninja did do better, they didn't get themselves (fatally) immolated by friendly fire for one.

Otherwise, at the risk of sounding terribly blunt, you explained your own misgivings here, I think.

You were a kid.

He's a man.
 
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posh-goofiness

Well-known member
He also has the advantage of the inhuman intelligence he's merged with just making him flat out smarter and with better reflexes.

Edit: Unless I misunderstood what the plasma... being.... thing... that he's merged with is supposed to do?
 

Orphiex

Member
He also has the advantage of the inhuman intelligence he's merged with just making him flat out smarter and with better reflexes.

Edit: Unless I misunderstood what the plasma... being.... thing... that he's merged with is supposed to do?
Sssssssssort of misunderstood?

The plasma lifeforms don't seem to have any intelligence themselves; fusing with Hanzo didn't add the Anami's intelligence to his. What the fusion did was give Hanzo complete control over every part of his body. At a sub-cellular level, unless I miss my guess.

The "smarter and with better reflexes" part comes partly from his brain and body working at peak capacity, including the total restoration of every form of damage to his body. Basically, he's constantly firing on all cylinders. This means that he was about as fast and smart as it's possible for a baseline human to be... before he started making targeted, deliberate improvements.

At this point, he's well beyond baseline human.
 
Chapter 13: The Sword of Shinobi's Love

Karmic Acumen

Well-known member
Shisui-in-his-own-little-world.png

Chapter 13: The Sword of Shinobi's Love

"-. July 23, 6 ANB .-"


"-. Uchiha Shisui, Konoha Anbu Ninja, Codename Crow .-"

"When Heaven and Earth first appeared, three Spirits came about in the High Plains of Heaven."

Shimura Danzo, in the end, ran away.

"First was Amenominakanushi, the spirit Master Mighty Center of Heaven, whose name was Manu, and whose hands moulded life in his own image that we would henceforth be known as mankind."

One could never credibly call Shimura Danzo a coward.

"Second was Takamimusubi, the spirit Lofty Growth, High Creator, whose name was Yemo, and who gave up his life for Earth to spring eternal, that mankind would henceforth understand sacrifice and choice."

But it turned out practicality could make people run away every bit as fast as a faint heart.

"Third was Kamimusubi, the Divine Creator, whose name was Trito, and who descended from heaven to be amongst mankind, and so from him came all understanding of wisdom and creation."

Unfortunately, Shimura Danzo chose to flee down the path he was guarding.

"The Three were each their singular existence and concealed their true selves from the world so that we may thrive unrestricted."

Shimura Danzo jumped down the hatch to the darkest exit just to meet Crow's spinning pinwheel eyes.

"Vanish like the Kotoamatsukami."

A human mind suffered the full effects of exposure to the empty chaos of the primordial void.

"You are only the second man to hear these words reclaimed in full for human kind."

Shimura Danzo fell, mind utterly undone.

"Be honoured."

Perfect manipulation of the senses could persuade someone to do anything while believing their decisions were their own. Perfect manipulation of the senses could be used to make someone believe anything. Perfect manipulation of the senses could be used to convince a brain that it had just dissolved back into feckless dust.

And if he ruined Danzo's afterlife through disappointment that his illusion was better than anything there, well…

I never claimed to be a saint.

It was probably arrogant of him to believe his imagination could beat all the things down in Yomi, but Crow was an Uchiha. Arrogance was an inborn trait.

Ask anyone.

Crow pressed a hand to his right eye, or rather tried and failed because of the mask. It would be closed for a good while after that.

Hound caught up first. He took the situation in at a glance, gave Crow a penetrating look, and put his hand to his ear. "Target Down. Crow got the takedown, target in catatonic state with no additional visible injuries." He listened. "Understood. Proceeding to next objective. Sending replacement now." He pulled the body in a three-way carry. "Crow, report to the Hokage for further orders."

"Understood."

He found the Third back at the site of his fight with Danzo, visibly tired and his battle attire slightly scuffed in places, but still standing, however stiffly, and directing his ninja, taking reports and firing out orders as ever. Crow was motioned to approach and told to give his report.

He knelt and did so quickly, succinctly and leaving nothing out, making sure to name his technique and describe its applications exactly.

The Third's face when he was done… Crow couldn't tell if it was more sympathetic or displeased.

He was ordered to wait, so he did so. Despite what it looked to the rest of the ANBU that one of their own was effectively made to kneel quietly for all of them to see. It was a snub and a message.

When all but the Hokage Guard Platoon were gone to help secure the base, the Third still didn't turn to look at him.

"You lied in your report."

"Yes, Lord Hokage."

Just because Danzo believed him when he claimed to have used up Kotoamatsukami for the decade didn't mean it was true. Crow didn't believe for a second the Third Hokage hadn't at least suspected he'd lied in that report, but it had been a lie.

"Lying to the Hokage is unacceptable."

Crow hadn't gone out of his way to confess to the Hokage after the fact, so it did technically constitute lying to him as well, however indirectly. Danzo's place in the chain of command had still been legitimate at the time. "Yes, Lord Third."

"Take off your mask, it is no longer fit for purpose."

'It' is no longer fit, not 'you'. "Yes, Lord Third." Crow came off, leaving Uchiha Shisui kneeling before his supreme commander.

"I will deal with you after the present affair is concluded. Until then, you are restricted to the Uchiha clan grounds."

"As you command, Lord Third."

Choosing not to volunteer the truth to the Hokage – regardless that he obviously knew about it – had been nothing but Shisui's calculated set-up for his own self-flagellation, but now that it finally caught up with him, he felt surprisingly light.

"Just tell me one thing."

Shisui waited.

"Why not just tell me you wanted out?"

"That would have been dishonourable."

"I wonder if you mean for me, your clan, or yourself," Sarutobi Hiruzen sighed, lighting his pipe with a snap of his fingers. "Do not answer, I know you do not know either. If you did, perhaps you'd have come up with a better plan than to force me into a position where dishonourable discharge is the least of bad options. You Uchiha and your accursed dramatics, I should have shut the ANBU to children the moment I took office like I wanted."

The Hokage was carefully not phrasing anything as a question, so Shisui said nothing.

"Dismissed, shinobi."

Guess my rank is in the air as well
. Shisui stood and turned to leave.

"One last thing."

Shisui stopped just short of the tunnel mouth.

"Next time you think of lying to your loved ones 'for their own good', don't bother. If just a handful of interactions with a stranger were enough to emotionally compromise you so thoroughly, your judgment is not fit to make any decisions for other people."

Hindsight, as always, was not an excuse. "… I will remember your words, Lord Hokage."

"… Yes, I should have expected that answer as well. Go."

Finally, Shisui passed out of the Hokage's sight and proceeded to escape the Root base as fast as body flicker could take him. Which was half as fast as before because having one eye out of commission did terrible things to your depth perception.

He had just climbed down from the Hokage Rock when the glow of fire suddenly erupted from the very opposite edge of Konoha.

That's the Uchiha Grounds!

Shisui rushed over fast as he could, stopping only twice to demand answers, but neither nin was any less shocked or confused than him, even the ANBU!

He was two districts away when Akimichi Chouza grew to giant size in the middle of the compound. He made it one more street when he received Yamanaka Inoichi's telepathic transmission. He almost fell off the roof and broke his neck. The strength of it – how far did he send, what's happening? Who are those nin, are they Root, but their symbols-? He was two streets away when Akimichi Chouza shrunk back down to size and vanished out of sight. Hyuuga Hiashi was leading his people over and out of the Uchiha compound just as Shisui reached the place from the opposite direction, his daughter held tight inside his arms. A smattering of shinobi from the other clans were doing the same with all the rest of Sasuke's age-mates.

This is full scale evacuation!

"Uchiha-san!" A Hyuuga he didn't recognize jumped in his path just as Shisui finally landed on the nearest roof within the compound proper. "Hyuuga Kintetsu, chuunin."

And I'm no rank at the moment! "Report!"

"There was an attack on the party grounds. The Jonin commander has summoned all hands, I will lead you to him!"

There was WHAT?!

But he followed Kintetsu even though the man went the long way around to gather everyone else he could find. Many other nin were streaming in, Lord Nara must have assigned him to force consolidation, as expected of the Jonin Commander.

When Shisui landed on the eaves of the district utilities management building, Nara Shikaku was giving orders to ninja flickering in and out while crouched on a power pole with his shadow spread out of the pole's own, like tentacles all over the street below and the half a dozen ninja frozen upon it. They all wore black cloaks with red clouds and masks with the Rain symbol on their forehead. "Take them to Morino as soon as they are neutralised. Genin, continue evacuation, chunin protect them and their charges and otherwise fight to kill, jonin switch to capture, this group and any remaining stragglers are interrogation priorities. Exceptions are anyone we have with middling or better barrier techniques, have them report to Fugaku in the Council Hall. Shisui! How fares today's operation? What word from the Hokage?"

"Sir! Counter-insurgency operation was a success, Lord Third was well when I was dismissed, but I cannot speak to his awareness of events here prior to the report by the patrolling nin, which should only be reaching him now. There was no mention of a parallel operation in our mission debrief. I was only alerted to a disturbance by the fire just now! Requesting sitrep!"

"Not an operation, an attack by rogue Uchiha nin and attempted kidnapping."

Gods, what happened – wait, what Uchiha nin gone rogue? We have no missing Uchiha on record!

"Lords Hyuuga, Uchiha and Uzumaki were successful in repelling the hostile, but the situation is still sensitive. Enemy abilities include Byakugan-proof camouflage, regeneration, mokuton and intangibility, on top of the general Uchiha repertoire."

Such powers, how do they still exist never mind in a single person – wait, Lord Uzumaki?

"Enemy reportedly fled, but we cannot be sure with the skills displayed. Report to Fugaku at the Council Hall!"

"At once, Commander!"

Hanzo was in a fight?! And Lord Nara mentioned attempted kidnapping, dammit, today was the Clan chief's grand soiree, who was the target? The children, the Jinchuuriki, Sasuke? Hanzo himself?

Itachi landed next to him just as he cleared the next-to-last roof to his destination. "Shisui, follow me!"

Itachi looked, felt and had the right chakra to his Sharingan, so Shisui complied and followed him around to the side entrance. A glance at the main doors showed that everyone else was being put through security measures that Shisui had only experienced during war drills. "What the hell happened here?"

"The Fourth's Uchiha student is alive. He infiltrated the party under a disguise provided by an accomplice that fooled both the Sharingan and the Byakugan. Motivations and aims are still unclear, I was not present for the full confrontation as I was evacuating Sasuke and the other children, but it was clear even in the initial confusion that Lord Hanzo was the one being singled out."

The side entrance still had some security, so Shisui complied with it by rote while listening to Itachi's summary in growing disbelief. An infiltration narrowly exposed by Hyuuga Hiashi, an attempted hostage situation only mostly averted because Uchiha Obito was now some sort of super-regenerating plant man with Senju Hashirama's legendary techniques, the Kyuubi jinchuuriki barely not abducted (or killed) because his mother's bloodline randomly activated, all capped with an attempted abduction of Hanzo himself because…

Because he hurt the nutjob's feelings?!

And the abduction was only averted because Hanzo went and pulled more ridiculous nonsense out of his backside than even Shisui knew about.

How does Hanzo have Susanoo, why does Hanzo have Susanoo, since when does Hanzo have Susanoo?!

"Big brother, you're back!" Sasuke cried the moment they were finally through to… the council antechamber where the most confidential talks were had and thus the security was the best in the district. "What's happening out there, is the missing nin gone, did everyone else make it home okay, Mister Masanari won't talk to us and Naruto won't wake up!"

Lord Fugaku and Lady Mikoto were, indeed, not alone in the room. Sasuke was tugging on their sleeves – Itachi distracted him, thank gods – Uzumaki Naruto was laid out cold on the settee, and Hanzo sat next to him, leaning back with eyes closed and… a hazy aura around him that the Sharingan used to see a lot less clearly before. It was a spectral, glass-like blue and seemed to fade outward with distance, but there were strands and shoots of golden through it, seeping down and up over his skin, steadily looping up and out through his chakra pathways, moving like syrup through the Celestial Gates in reverse order, where was it going? Mangekyou Sharingan.

Hanzo stirred, saw him, blinked twice at the sight of his right eye firmly shut, and pinched his nose. "Ninja lie. Of course."

Shisui felt a pang, but said nothing. He deserved it.

"I should have known, the spirit doesn't go through such a paradigm shift just from external stimuli, it only does so when you become a more refined version of yourself."

Shisui cleared his throat and pointed above Hanzo's right shoulder. "What's that?"

"Oh, you can see it then? Only Hiashi's been able to, so far, and just barely."

"It looks like a blob. Or the sun, except it's too gooey-looking, and it's gold instead of blue like the rest of you – or neon? It's seeping into its own blob right out of you, should I be more worried than usual?"

Hanzo's expression shuttered. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Oh. Well-"

"Clan Chief on your nine."

"Shisui, report!" Fugaku called as he neared. "We could have used you, where have you been? Does the Hokage finally have an explanation for why I was deprived of the one technique that might have nipped this disaster in the bud?"

That was borderline seditious, but the Hokage had pre-emptively pronounced the secrecy lifted the moment the objective was secured. "As of roughly twenty minutes ago, Shimura Danzo has been arrested for treason and remanded to the custody of the Torture and Interrogation division."

Fugaku was astonished. "… I see. That… is much better news than I have come to expect of this village." The man sighed. "At least there is something to salvage this disaster-"

Hanzo jerked in shock. "Oh shit!"

"What now?" "What's wrong?" "Sir-"

"Shisui, the Hokage – Obito's there!" What-?! "No, look out!" The man's eyes blew wide.

Shisui flickered to his side. "Hanzo, what are you sensing?!"

"The three men with the Hokage, Obito's killing them-fuck."

Raidō, Genma, Iwashi…

"What, what is it?" Fugaku demanded.

Hanzo looked at them in bewilderment. "The Hokage's gone."

"""WHAT?!"""

"He vanished, they both vanished, Obito must have taken him with him to–" Hanzo suddenly surged from the couch. "GET THE CHILDREN OUT OF HERE NOW!"

The floor exploded.

Tatami mats tore, wood splintered, earth burst up and apart as a tree burst out of it, shooting up like a battering ram, growing, twisting, sprouting gnarled branches all over like wrinkled, gnarly hands out to claw them to shreds.

Susanoo!

The wood splintered against his emerald-green defense but he had no footing, the earth threw him aside and the wood pushed hard at him even as it splintered uselessly, Itachi jumped with Sasuke for the closest window, Lady Mikoto did the same with Naruto, Lord Fugaku barely kept his balance as he charged for the threat instead, the Sharingan let Shisui see it all down to the pinhead fractures in the sprouting bark, including Hanzo dashing past him the opposite way with all the speed he could wring out the Eight Celestial Gates, arm outstretched at a glass jar that had just flown in through the other window.

Crack.

The jar burst just before Hanzo reached it.

The room exploded into black writhing smoke that only barely didn't reach Shisui on account of the ghost-like veil walling it back, but the earth still moved and the Birth of Trees technique was still going, the ground broke harder, the black mist seeped past the edges of the blue shield even as the tree shot up further, bigger and wider, so wide between a breath and the next that the council hall was broken in half as branches burst through the ceiling and kept on going up.

Unh! Shisui grunted as the ceiling broke against the Susanoo. "Tch!" The black cloud reached his nose just as he gasped for breath, and now he felt like his own flesh was eating itself amidst a foul, rancid smell, and the pain – it itched more than it stung! Poison! Shisui jumped off the branch and on the palm of his guardian spectre, the Susanoo's other hand gripping tight at the trunk as it carried him up. He cast a field medical jutsu on his chest to much too minimal effect. "Agh!" The pain, it seared like a firebrand inside. The Susanoo's self-immolating flames should have protected him from airborne toxins, but it didn't work against attacks from the ground, and even then – the cloud moved so fast and suddenly, it was so dense, could whatever it was have blasted past the green fire through sheer volume?

What technique is this?

There was an explosion in the tree crown above.

Hanzo! Shisui snarled and clawed, pulled and ran his way up to the top as fast as he could. "Hanzo, where are you?!"

"-f I hear 'humans fear what they don't understand' one more time, there's going to be murder!" The man in question said somewhere within the leaves, they were too many and close, growing, snarling together, he couldn't push through, maybe his crow-? "Humans only fear what they understand to be dangerous!"

Don't argue with the crazy missing nin! Shisui thought wildly. "Out of my way!" Susanoo's drill sword ground everything apart in a diagonal just off of where he'd heard Hanzo's voice come from.

A wide gap was smashed through the tree crown, with Obito right in the middle of it, falling from his lost perch to the one right below, untouched and uncaring of Shisui's attack on him.

"You did it, didn't you? You rediscovered what the Uzumaki were doing." Uchiha Obito didn't even twitch as Shisui's kunai flew through him, focused solely on growing more and more branches to keep Hanzo immobilized in a caging net of twisting, crunching boughs. "I'm sorry, Masanari-san, but I cannot allow a second Hashirama to emerge."

The entire trap rippled like a water twister with Hanzo still inside and Shisui jump-

"ACK!" Stinging pain in his ankle made him stumble, slip and fall onto a lower bough with a wrench in his knee, his foot – it felt like a – a bite! What was – the snake burst to gore when his kunai skewered its skull, but it was too late. "Shit, a snake – here, now but then, that means-"

Everything above him suddenly vanished with a sucking gust of air and a splatter of blood and splinters, and Hanzo's body fell down, grisly and flayed from toe to head.

Shisui felt like he'd puke. "Oh gods!"

Then the body grabbed at the bark nearby and flopped to a three-point landing right in front of him with a wet, hacking splat. Blood stopped pouring, lids grew back over his eyes, his cheeks began to weave back together over his teeth and tongue, and the rest of the skin too, healing right before his eyes, it – it was a miracle!

"You are a truly annoying man," Obito's voice said from somewhere above. "Thanks for the loose chunks, though, I'm sure I'll find a use for them."

Shisui stumbled to his feet, barely keeping balance on the leafy branches beneath, he was almost at the edge of what he could perch on, especially with his foot numb and unsteady, his chest feeling like his lungs were eating themselves. His tried to capture Obito's gaze but he didn't fall for it. There were flickers of movement down below at the edge of his one-eyed sight, and Hanzo was…

"And I'm not the only one."

"Hanzo's aura…" Shisui wondered distantly. "Where's the golden blob?"

Chains burst out of Hanzo's bloody meatgrinder of a back, sunk into the wood, wrapped around it and back up around himself as Hanzo looked at Shisui, his freshly healed face moving from gritted teeth to a loose expression of resignation. "Yin Release: Trito's Tribulation."

Then the Sword of Kusanagi burst out of the tree trunk, speared through Hanzo's spine and blasted him away with a mighty blast of air before Shisui's sluggish mind could even process what the Sharingan showed him.

The understated but very present presence that was Masanari Hanzo completely vanished.

"No! HANZO!" The wood was shredded, the chains had barely slowed him down, then the rest of the events caught up to him in full. "Orochimaru! You're here as well, you bastard?! Fire Release-"

The tree exploded.

It was all Shisui could do to shield his face, regretting the absence of his mask as he fell down, his clothes ripping just like his skin in the aftermath of the overpowering wind technique, when had Susanoo lapsed? Susanoo – he couldn't pull it out, his chakra-

All he could do was look up at Orochimaru's head undulating up from the torn treetop like a snake, the Kusanagi no Tsurugi grown so long that the tip and its victim had already vanished in the forest beyond the village walls, rumbling, blasting leaves and dust up in the air as the great trees fell over each other in its wake. The rogue Uchiha rippled into sight on the last branch and gave a long, wide kick behind the other missing nin just as Orochimaru finally spat out the hilt.

Orochimaru boosted off it and flew out of the village and sight like a bullet blast.

Shisui looked down and managed to grab one of lower boughs, small and gnarly but enough to – his muscles spasmed.

He lost grip and fell from too high, his chakra failed him again, he landed wrong, his leg snapped as he crashed on the chunky, rocky ground with a scream. When he looked at the pain, his shinbone was sticking out of his skin.

Obito landed lightly nearby and sauntered over, pulling a kunai idly before stopping suddenly.

Itachi drove through him kunai-first as if through a ghost. There were words exchanged, testing blows, defiance on one side and oddly respectful mockery on the other, flying shuriken, kunai clashing, fire techniques being spat, completely on-sided. Shisui witnessed it through a haze of poison and pain that he could only half remember, only his Sharingan snatching any snippet of what was happening as his mind slipped away from him along with flying fire and shuriken, Itachi's kunai and Obito's kunai, another kunai that almost took Obito in the eye just as he'd turned solid to slash at Itachi's eyes, black iron scratched over with the sealing characters for shinobi ai no ken.

"Rasengan."

Uzumaki Naruto appeared in a yellow flash above Uchiha Obito and smashed a spiralling sphere down on his head.

Shisui shut his eyes against the buffeting dust and earth, unable to believe what had just happened. The glow of gold didn't go away, reaching him though his shut eyelids and even brighter when he opened them to see the Uzumaki child stand in front of him, a golden chakra shroud enveloping his body like a cloak of fire.

"The Kyuubi's chakra is surprisingly pleasant." Naruto's voice said. "Also-"

Golden-orange chains burst from his back into the ground, then upward ahead to surround the Uchiha missing nin, stabbing at him, forcing him to dodge desperately when the second made him drop his knife, his fingers fallen slack despite his technique, for a moment.

"The Adamantine Sealing Chains are surprisingly intuitive as well."

With the last of his focus, Shisui squinted his sharingan and saw black seals on the chain links as well, as if they were swallowing their own light.

"It's enough that I think I can experiment with Yin release a bit myself." Naruto's voice said calmly as Obito clenched his weakened fist. "What do you say, Obito? Are you ready for one more lesson from your old teacher?"

"… M-Minato-sensei?"

"Itachi. Get Shisui to the dome before Sir Hanzo's technique expires."

"Y-Yes… Lord… Lord Fourth?"

"Now!"

"Yes!"

Itachi flickered to a stop next to Shisui, picked him up in a three-way carry and shunshined him away, carrying him all the way to the edge of… a dome of blue light?

"Apologies, Shisui."

Before he could ask why, Itachi tossed him inside.

The light caught him, broke his fall just enough that he didn't shatter his remaining bones when he met the ground. Shisui rolled over and tried to look around, his vision going grey as his chakra began to slip from his grasp. There were… so many people down, Uchiha, not Uchiha, ninja, not ninja, it… they looked like – the poison cloud! How had it caught so many, what was that technique?!

Not Sasuke, please let it not be Sasuke, not Itachi or Sasuke, that's Lord Fugaku – oh god, what are those spikes?

Squinting, he tried to look at them, the spikes – they were blood, blood of – he traced their origin through the rapidly worsening daze – the giant toad? The giant toad was laid out on its side to the very edge of the blue-ish light, motionless, almost desiccated as its blood hung out of its pores, a hundred and four steel-hard spikes that were retracting, growing, directed by the vague presence in the blue light to pierce a dozen people at a time through their vital points as they sweated black sludge from their pores and screamed.

Shisui struggled to move. Struggled to understand, to remember. "This… is Hanzo's technique?"

Yin Release –Trito's Tribulation.

"Hanzo… y-you…"

That's when a dozen and one spikes ran him through.

"Hurkh!"

Shisui choked, his stomach, mouth, collar bone, instep, knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers and his heart… they stung, it hurt, he could feel them dig deeper and deeper through his organds, his blood veins, his nerves, he felt like all his muscles and organs were going out of control, ignoring his brain no matter how much he screamed inside, he could feel his individual cells but they didn't listen and the blood-

His Celestial Gate of Death burst wide open.

"AaaaaAAAAAAGH!"

I'll kill you. Shisui thought amidst his own screams as his consciousness was obliterated in a last wave of pain, not sure even at who. I'll fucking kill you!

He came back to awareness all at once, a shock of adrenaline smacking his brain back alight with all the grace of a rampaging tiger. As his mind struggled to re-right itself, Shisui wondered vaguely why Hanzo hadn't used his own Susanoo to protect himself, or whatever it was that he had… but the answer was clear now, wasn't it?

He left it behind when the tree burst… he saw the poison spread and chose to save everyone else instead.

Wait, Hanzo's Susanoo could move independently?

The blue… it was still around him now but lessened, less a glassy bubble and more a gossamer web of strings drifting apart, struck through with those same, golden tendrils, but thicker and faster now, they were… were they going back into the toad? The blue was growing so weak so quickly, thinning, breaking, unweaving apart as if it was one single thread being pulled at the seams.

And then Shisui's ears rang with the howling roar of a monster.

Snapping his head up, Shisui watched in stunned confusion as the last of the gold violently wrenched free from the flickering spirit made of blue threads and fireflies, and slammed into the dessicated body of the giant toad so harshly that it flopped over as if thrown.

Then Gama exploded.

And the blood and flesh and rage of the golden chakra erupted from it, up and up and up and then away over the village walls towards where Hanzo and Orochimaru had disappeared, azure not-chakra feeding into golden chakra grown through a serpentine, dragon-headed beast of lightning and gore.

"G̸E̶T̵ ̵a̸w̵A̶y̴ ̵f̶r̴o̸m̸ ̸m̴y̵ ̴F̸a̸T̷H̷E̸R̴ ̸Y̵o̸U̶ ̶s̸o̴N̵ ̶o̸F̶ ̴A̷ ̷w̷h̴o̸R̶e̴!̴"


Chapter 14 is available on Patreon (karmicacumen), Ko-fi (karmicacumen) and Subscribestar (karmic-acumen), along with the advance chapters on The Unified Theorem, and Reset the Universe.
 
Chapter 14: The Abandon of Monsters

Karmic Acumen

Well-known member
A/N: This chapter and the next will either make or break the story. And its fanbase. Probably.

But since this is Naruto, it was always going to happen.


White-Snake-vs-man.png



Chapter 14: The Abandon of Monsters

"-. July 23, 6 ANB .-"


C-catastrophic damage – susss-spend ex-ternal s-sensory innnn-p-put, r-reset internal receptors, activate – pain, pain, p-pain overwhelming – deactivate! Suspend fight or flight response, abate signal strength, splice neuron axons to divert half of incoming impulses to circular loops, reactivate pain receptors, p-pain… reduced, still overwhelming, repeat process, repeat, repeat, repeat – pain manageable, examine internal sensory input for–

The ground shifted under me as something cracked the earth that I couldn't see or hear while deaf and blind from sixteen rock-shattering blows to the head, groaning, languorous. Everything downward from my upper spine felt absent, everything upward hurt. The Sword of Kusanagi wrenched out of my back as I tasted dirt along with my blood, it wasn't – it wasn't only – not just-

Ignore pain, assess homeostasis, minimal surface damage thanks to skin and muscular tissue density, ceramic carbide ossification prevented skull damage, serious lung and diaphragm damage due to stab, devastating general damage, severe traumatic brain injury due to kinetic shock, severe damage to all internal organs, catastrophic damage to skeletal-muscular apparatus, countless muscle lesions, tendons intact but anchoring cartilage torn at all major joints, radiuses fractured, ulnas fractured, tibias broken, left femur warped, right femur fractured, pelvis shattered, spine –

Good god, my spine – so many places – the cervical broken – the middle third of my thoracic section was paste.

Suspend combat dynamics modelling! Reallocate resources to damage recovery, repair sprains, repair microfractures, begin simulations for major damage repair, assign priMArY – abort, abort, assign tertiary mental partition, first and second streams unavailable due to brain damage, fourth thought stream crashed at unknown point, restart, assign to sensory processing, reassess internal sensory input, re-activate external sensory input, cross-examine sensory input for abnormalities, illusions not detected, telepathy not detected, hypnosis not detected, no new hostile biological agents detected, physical agony impairs cognitive tasks, massive incoming threat, p-preliminary assessment.

I didn't die in one hit.

"Amazing," Orochimaru's voice slithered its way to my ears as he landed in the groove he'd dug through the forest with my broken body. "You survived even that."

Block fear neuromodulators, supplement adrenaline production, adjust acetylcholine and dopamine and norepinephrine production, begin –

"But oh, my dear doctor," Orochimaru pulled my face out of the dirt by my hair - lock vertebral muscles! "Could it be that you are finally reaching the limits of your regeneration?"

Lock muscle tension around spine, tissue state suboptimal to sustain effort, concentrate Anami cell remnants, lock energy state of local anatomy to prevent any and all shift in marrow positioning, skip every second sinew to minimise fragmentation, distribute Anami remainder to skin cells, initiate alternating current circuit, milliamperage at 33, 44, 55, 66, attempts failed, assimilate enemy tissue, tissue not found, only oil, compound is nonconductive with consistency of tar, enemy using it to insulate self, direct skin contact prevented, cannot paralyze, cannot repel, can't-

"Come now, Doctor, I can't have overestimated you by that much." Orochimaru stomped hard on the back of my leg from behind. It didn't break. "Oh?" He made three more attempts, then he dropped me back on my face and an oil-coated python spilled out of his sleeve to wrap around my legs, then up further up to my waist and higher all the way around my chest and my neck, it began to tighten, tighten, tighten, tighten-

Resist, resist, resist, enact counter-contractions, initiate muscle fiber recruitment, effort insufficient, desired contractions misfiring, signals not reaching below diaphragm, current tissue density cannot compensate, energy insufficient, mental resources unavailable for biomodification, physical resources insufficient after recent duress, biomass critically depleted after having to recently replace lethal burns, fire remains the ultimate regenerator killer, flayed layers likewise irrecoverable, tissue density – my strength – so much… lower than it was just that morning, I –

SNAP

My remaining intact femur snapped and my hip dislocated.

"Hgn," I grunted. The pain – even so much reduced, it burned, having redundant ganglia independent of the spinal cord was showing its double edge.

"Aha!" the Sannin exclaimed delightedly, stroking the serpent as it dumped me back on my face in the dirt. "My oh my, seems I've yet underestimated you, how wonderful!"

D-defer on musculoskeletal realignment, c-commence damaged biomass reabsorption, commence nerve regeneration, performance – suboptimal, Anami cells majorly spent, remainder require micromanagement, available mental partitions already assigned to critical operations, cannot divert, biofeedback – biofeedback redlining, I need – I need Yemo, I need-

"I read your Dummy's Guide to Effective Science. Brilliant work, it gave me no end of ideas and accelerated my research by decades, the centrefolds were particularly illuminating."

"I – " I coughed out bloody dust. "I don't give autographs."

The kick to the face wasn't surprising, only the fact it didn't split my lip was.

"I am surprised, truly, what happened to the strength you showed during the earlier battle? Could it be that even your healing ability has a cost?" Many new snakes appeared, smaller this time, but still strong enough to wrap around each of my limbs and individual fingers, snapping my joints out of alignment one after another. "But then, should that truly hinder you?"

POP

"The nervous system plays the ultimate role in combat, is that not your ultimate asset?" POP "If you perform a movement you're familiar with, your nerves can get a large portion of the available muscle fibres to contract. You yourself called this muscle fibre recruitment." POP "I suppose you truly have no experience in battle at all." POP - SNAP went my knee next. "If it was something at all familiar to you, your nerves would be much more capable of getting your muscles to produce the desired contractions, even lacking the brain's coordination. Alas for your current state, your muscles only know to keep you from injuring yourself attempting something you have no competence in." POP

"Orochimaru," I wheezed. "Y-you-"

SNAP. "Oh? I'm sorry, Doctor, I didn't realize you wanted to say something, I am after all a poor, uneducated swine."

Sarutobi, Hatake, Hirano, who blabbed? The first two were unlikely, the third… the doctor… drugs and nightly visitations, Shisui's 'off-hand' comment rose and fell amidst my runaway thoughts. Fuck you too, Danzo.

"Please, Doctor, do speak your mind." Orochimaru raised me by the throat with his python and grabbed on my hair so hard my spine nearly snapped in a completely new place. "I insist."

I squinted at him, my head turned forcefully around to see him. "Y-you…"

"Yes?"

"You still don't know shit."

CRASH

I didn't see the tree but I felt it when I flew through it, saw its shadow as it collapsed under its weight, experienced its mass as it fell on top of me. I struggled to inhale with my chest pressed down, I choked on the tossed earth and splinters, such pain, suspend – no, if I don't feel pain I don't know what to heal – cough – if I don't cough, I'd choke and suffocate to death, I didn't have –

A loud, distant roar shook the wind, and it sounded like nothing I'd ever heard.

"What was–?" Orochimaru sounded startled. "No, it does not matter, seems our leisure is past." Orochimaru dug me out none too gently, dislocated every other one of my joints with clinical precision, then dragged my limp form over to a drum-shaped barrel covered in seals that wasn't there before. "We'll have to continue our bonding later."

That's-

Orochimaru' throat suddenly elongated, then his open mouth descended to bite the side of my neck like a snake.

"Hng!" My body lurched as if hit by lightning. It – it burns, like necrosis and fire all at once but – not just in my flesh!

"I'd say don't resist," the snake man hissed in my ear as his fangs injected me with venom and natural energy and pain. "But I'm not delusional, regardless of what some may think."

Orochimaru ripped his fanged maw from my neck and shoved me inside the container. I suddenly understood with humiliating clarity why the madman had gone to such lengths to disconnect all of my joints. I barely fit even when stuffed like a pulped corpse, agh, I – I couldn't move – even enough to breathe, I could go without air for so long I could set up camp underwater, but a little bit of air was still -

"Don't worry, it will be a long and fruitful joining, just as soon as you heal of course. Yes, I can tell, you may have fooled everyone up to this point, but no longer."

I – know this thing.

"Don't worry, it's just the sort of scientific endeavour I can guarantee you will appreciate."

The barrel – the drum Sasuke was sealed in during the Sound Four flight!

"And if you don't, well, you'll have all of eternity to come around to my way of thinking."

Orochimaru had already – he wanted me for –

"Try not to die in transit, will you? Though I promise, even if you do, Edo Tensei will make sure your secrets do not die with you. I've yet to perfect it, but I'm sure your amazing body will help me make the final leap, and I don't need the technique perfect to get all I want out of you."

The lid came down just as the curse seal began to burn inside my flesh, plunging me into complete darkness.

The Living Corpse Reincarnation!

I squinted in the dark, cycling animal sight types to look for other spectrums. I felt chakra burning within me, and natural energy gone wrong and twisted. I felt chakra around me too, felt it condense into the planks of wood, and outside on the wood. The darkness became absolute no matter how far into infrared or ultraviolet I looked. I couldn't see at all. I couldn't see. I couldn't feel any movement anymore either. But we had to be moving, it was the whole point, but I couldn't feel it. I couldn't see. I couldn't feel. I couldn't hear.

Juugo has got to be an Uzumaki, I thought dazedly, struggling to breathe enough to maintain consciousness. Or maybe Juugo's clan is just a result of Uzumaki cellular tampering research? Their whole thing was sage mode gone horribly right. I'd forgotten back before I had my cognitive tune-up, but Juugo was a redhead too, wasn't he? A bloody ginger –

My awareness underwent the bizarre experience of witnessing discontinuity of consciousness right as it occurred.

Suspend external sensors! Reallocate mental resources to systemic transmutation, phenotype – phenotype… phenotype cutaneous respiration!

My skin rippled and moved, and suddenly I could breathe through it like an amphibian.

Won't last me long, but I have a little time
however long this pocket of air lasts me – what was that?

It was like I experienced my consciousness cutting off without it actually cutting off, it was – like sleep paralysis turned into an out of the body experience.

I accelerated my internal sensory processing as fast as it could go, then looked inward through my brain, to the neurons and axons, then deeper, all the way to the – abort, ABORT, that's just another distraction!

I need – I need – focus on living – I need options!

The seals on the drum…

Sensory deprivation? But all attempts by the foreign energies to do something by burrowing into my chakra system were failing because the chakra was being expunged along with all the rest through the Gate of Death. The Cursed Seal… one third was absorbing natural energy, the other two had latched onto my chakra pathway system, trying to pull my chakra but not finding any because the outer flow was too strong, too ingrained, my skin, my muscles, my blood was calcifying, petrifying because the natural energy was just going in without counterbalance.

Suspend external sensory input, reallocate mental thread, insulate affected tissue, metabolise, repeat, repeat, repeat, loop procedure.

Close Gate of Death, observe... The curse seal was taking my chakra and converting it back into Yin and Yang like the chakra pathway system didn't.

Fuck me.

Study process 1%, 2%, 3%, 5%, 11%...

Orochimaru had somehow encoded his own trained ability to convert chakra back into Yin and Yang. He'd already achieved what I've been building towards all this time. He had managed to reverse the Shinju's function. Did he even understand what he had achieved here?

But for what?

The Cursed Seal… it was pumping sage chakra into my chakra system and steadily increasing rates the more it spread. There was a tendril of Orochimaru's Yin inside, to which the chakra was being converted to match, my chakra system would be gradually converted to have affinity for the same, but this was… just the secondary effect?

Inference: the true aim of the Cursed Seal of Heaven is just to force the chakra pathway system of the host to grow faster.

Cruder than I expected by miles, but it made sense if the whole point was to prepare a body so it handled your full power, or at least your full chakra output.

… 31%, 67%, 100% analysis complete.

The Cursed Seal was a chakra pathway system graft programmed via fuuinjutsu. But it didn't look artificial, it… was this taken from his own body? Did he excise a bit of his own chakra system? I wouldn't put it past him, if he was expecting to get an entirely new one out of the deal. Maybe he even figured out how to grow it, that would be an essential step on the path to transferring himself wholesale, wouldn't it? Absent of ninshu, he needed some way to interface with the victim's own system.

The energy flow was so small though. Even if the acceleration rate continued, it would take over a day for my pathways to even feel the strain, my own pathway system had spread and thickened a lot during the last six months, despite my best efforts, just from practicing with the Eight Gates. And if I go ahead and Reopen the Gate of Death

The chakra was back to being expelled faster than it was generated.

I've seen enough.

Expunge infestation.

The whole upper third of my trapezius muscle rent itself free in a burst of gore. The venom glutted on misqualified natural energy sizzled and smoked on my skin, foul and rancid but as harmless as a fish on land, flopping and churning in between the bloody folds of my twisted body until it expired with a last, grinding burble and turned to rock dust.

Mental partition freed, reactivate external sensory input, survey surroundings.

Complete environmental insulation still in place.

If that was true…

Then Orochimaru couldn't see, hear or feel me any better than I could the outside world.

Prioritize general damage repair, phenotype transmutation partition idle, reallocate to acquired asset management, confirm assimilation of enemy biomatter, analyse, rinkaichu success, Uchiha blood plasma success, zetsu blood plasma success, Sharingan tissue inconclusive, tissue damage catastrophic, genetic blueprint of intact cells 87% alien, store for long-term examination when additional partitions become available, analyse Hashirama cells, analysis failed, repeat attempt, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat -

Hashirama factor confirmed to be non-cellular dual-layer plasma phenomena, Hashirama factor induces alternative calcification or plant genome inculcation of own cells on contact, effects consistent with natural energy overload, metabolise affected tissue, insulate foreign cells, simulate – I need… I need more brain, where are those repairs?!

Brain damage recovery partially complete, secondary mental partition recovered, initiate Anami-Hashirama cell resonance, record emissions, replicate, simulate, compare, contrast, respond, analyse effect on own cells, analyse interaction, results inconclusive, repeat last ten steps, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, loop procedure, lock thought partition to long-term examination, integrate new data in primary thought string, preliminary conclusion?

I'm lacking Uchiha Madara's brand of bullshit.

That was alright. I had my own brand of bullshit. I just needed to-

"▂▂▃▃▅▅■■▃▅▅▂▂▃▅▅▅■■ーー!!"

The roar of rage buffeted me through ninshu like a mountain-savaging hurricane, a shrieking barrage of childish adoration and thirst to kill and guilt.

W-what, who – but I'm not – the ninshu, it's not mine?

Something destroyed the seals on the drum barrel, and suddenly I could feel every leap and lurch in all its nauseating onslaught.

Muscles reconstructed, tendons reattached, sinews realigned, refuelling.

The Yin leech – the roar just nowit felt the same!

What the fuck?

My thoughts whirled in abject confusion as the anomalies in my behaviour, my experiments, the impossible behavioural complexity in the new life I created when I hadn't expected to make anything beyond the basic building blocks of plasma spheres, all of it was coming together in something like a picture just outside my reach, like vapour and mirage in the desert-

General tissue repair complete.

I loosened and contracted all my muscles, tested where to expand, where to contract, when, how, then I pushed out in all directions as hard as I could. I was – I was so weak again but – I could still ignore the biological lock on strength and get this fucking thing off me!

The drum shattered around me.

I fell.

I fell and fell and fell down from the crown of the great treetops that I was being carried through, flopping in free-fall as I spilled out of that stuffed ball into something vaguely shaped like a person, y-yank-

Yank everything back into place!

Crack – snap – POP were heard like fireworks three hundred and fifty times in a second.

I hit the ground with a hard thud, tossing earth, dust and leaf mold in the air. Impact damage… minor but still bad on top of everything else that still – that didn't – it hadn't-

The forest above me ripped to gory splinters with a shrieking sound as if drilled through by buzz saws.

"▂▂▃▃▅▅▅■■■■ーー!!"

The roar was scratchy, gravelly and wet as if the voice was screaming through a bubbling brew made of blood and phlegm. It was so loud that I almost didn't hear Orochimaru cursing and yelling technique names in the chaos.

I tried to move, but my fingers barely twitched. I tried to look around, then I stopped. Every scrap of thought dedicated to my outer senses were resources I wasn't using to rebuild my spinal cord. Priorities, priorities, keep sight of priorities…

But… my out of body experience, it… it was an inside the body experience at the same time, but without using my body, somehow, it… had no effect on my recovery? Good or bad?

I looked inside… then further. I felt… my body felt horrible, but everything else… my spirit… it felt light.

I accelerated my internal sensory input as fast as it could go, then looked inward through my brain, to the neurons and axons, then deeper, all the way to the electric oscillations in the brain's fine-fibered dendritic webs, then went beyond even them to look past the Yang to see the Yin. I was… I was looking at myself. From both directions but without double vision, it was… I couldn't find words for it.

The oscillations… they were waves. They created wave interference patterns in which memory was being encoded naturally into something not flesh. The record… it had momentarily cut off earlier, but my awareness hadn't. I could see memory being formed from them in my consciousness, but my consciousness didn't need them to continue, I just… I just was.

I…

I was…

I didn't understand, how, why, I didn't know but… But I could understand something else.

The Yin leech…. It was gone.

I could… see through the wave interference patterns in my brain, past the Yang and through the ragged tapestry of my Yin all the way to where the burdensome lump used to be. A giant void of ripped spirit, slowly being contracted and patched by wave form patterns and manifest memory sewn together by my will to live. Badly. Weakly. But it was better than what I had before, dammit, I don't have time for more life-altering realizations right now!

Cartilage reconstruction complete.

The kyuubi's purified golden chakra had done something, had been doing something back in the Uchiha clan hall, filling the Yin leech, feeding it so I didn't have to anymore, all the Yang I'd never have mustered enough of, all of it fed to the leech at once. I didn't know – I didn't understand, hadn't understood, even Kurama hadn't been aware of it until the very last moment of our joining, he didn't understand anything even after, but –

I left the leech behind somehow, I thought dazedly as my spiritual perception – I had spiritual perception now, a whole new sense and it was – it was flooded with the feeling of snakes clashing with a palpable will to destroy even the whole world in my defense all over the forest. I left the leech with Yemo – no, it stayed behind! It can act on its own? It can choose? The gold… the Yang that had been coursing through it, Kurama what did you do?

My Yin was loose now, more than half of its burden gone, like a tapestry balled up around a single, thick knot that had been suddenly torn off. It was unrolling, unfolding, unspooling as I watched, the longer I lingered at the threshold of death the more I got to see of myself as the – the Yang – my Yang was flowing into the Yin. Not any faster than before, but more than the Yin needed now that the burden was gone.

Yin too, what had been going into the leech, that trickle of Yin was now seeping back into me, not nearly enough to balance the scales but… the beginning of a cycle, Yin and Yang were supposed to be a cycle and I'd been deprived of it all this time!

With eyes that weren't eyes, I watched and felt myself begin to untangle into something other than an utter mess.

Vertebras reconstructed, marrow realignment complete, reconnecting nerves, assess homeostasis.

I had no guns, my storage seal was back with my previous armpit in Kamui where Obito had tried to send all of me along with his branch trap. But I could finally think properly and move again.

Situation…

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" A colossal billow of smoke overtook the landscape. "Manda, stall that creature, whatever technique that is cannot last very long!"

"Orochimaru, you-!"

"I'll give you a thousand sacrifices, just stop him!"

Spinal cord repair complete.

Situation nominal.

Override fear neuromodulators, restart adrenaline generation, adjust production of acetylcholine and dopamine and norepinephrine, reset all sensory pain receptors, activate, cancel, cross-examine sensory input for abnormalities, illusions not detected, telepathy not detected, hypnosis not detected, psychosomatic pain detected, neutralized, physical pain not detected, contract all muscles, relax, review pain signals, results nominal, revert skin phenotype to optimal defense configuration, confirm homeostasis 1%, 2%, 3%, 5%, 11%, 31%, 67%, 100%.

Conclude disaster recovery.

Reallocate mental resources to combat dynamics modelling.

I climbed to my feet just in time to dodge the Kusanagi sword and grab Orochimaru's tongue-turned-snake under my arm. "Go fuck yourself."

My blood stabbed out of my skin into the snake, and so the shock of alternating current at 66 milliamps slammed right through Orochimaru's mouth into his brain.

"GR-HR-HR-HR-HR-HR-RRRRRRR-"

My moment of triumph lasted up until Orochimaru burst into brown mud.

Well, I tried.

I jumped onto the closest tree with all the speed the Gates could give me when I didn't have shunshin to pair it with, ran up to the first branch that could bear my weight, shoved a chunk of my chakra in it and jumped across to the other, bigger tree, crouching sideways on the trunk. Of course it was a clone, fuck! But then it shouldn't have conducted the current, the reactions were too lifelike, had Orochimaru substituted mid-way through? Despite being paralyzed?

Obito had fired the Izanagi… But he was a freak of body horror explicitly designed for survival and toughness. Orochimaru was a different sort of body horror entirely, his emphasis was on utility over anything else, he didn't have Obito's toughness or regeneration, even before he first swapped hosts, that's why he failed to attain sage mode, that's why he wanted me.

Mud clones must have some basic casting abilities, at least enough for them to use substitution on the main.

Kusanagi burst out the bark and through my back again – displace internal tissue! – but it broke skin and nothing else as I moved everything out of its way, then there was just a chunk of smoking wood in my place and I was running up the first tree again, because I can use Substitution too, so fuck you! "And fuck your snakes too, you bastard!"

The substitution technique was nowhere near as abusable as theorised back on Earth. Shisui had trained me, it turned out you need to infuse a chunk of your chakra into something roughly your mass ahead of time. Besides the exposure this meant against chakra sensors – which is why I didn't use it back at the party – this meant you could only have one primed at a time. When you used the technique, you weren't teleporting random things from the environment, you yanked on your own chakra. It was where the idea for space-time techniques originated. The technique was originally supposed to be a rapid movement technique, like a grapple hook to pull yourself out of danger, but it overperformed, like every other lucky accident in the history of technology. Or magic in this case, because why the fuck not?

"▂▂▃▃▅▅▅▅▅▅■■■■ーー!!"

Far away but so close that my footing shook every time I jumped branches, Manda the Strongest Colossal Serpent clashed with… something equally serpentine flying around made of blood and thunder, what even was it? It had felt like my Anami in that moment when we were close enough, but it wasn't Yemo, what happened to Yemo?

Mokuton discerned.

I almost fell off the tree.

That was still going on?!

What? When? How? Where was this mental train when I was getting stuffed in a box? No, forget that, how did I forget?!

The brain damage!

It had affected a good chunk of the parts I used for partition coordination, the partition had been working all this time but the connections were only re-established now.

How can I use-?

Mokuton analysed, Mokuton is not ninjutsu, Mokuton is ninshu with plants, mechanics vastly distinct from ninshu with sapients, no mutuality, entire process must be centralized and controlled top-down by self, discerning appropriate mental framework requires trial and error, inculcating new automated function into chakra system requires extended repetition training, substituting magic for bioenergy or holonomic mind melding theoretically possible to directly interface with flora, all options are too involved and time consuming to explore in life and death combat, Mokuton cannot be deployed.

"Fucking chakra parasite implant bullshit!"

"Fuuton: Daitoppa!"

"Archaic languages don't make you any smarter!"

VWOOOM - CRASH

Trash-talking remains my go-to way to cope, I thought wildly as I failed miserably to evade the gigantic blast of wind that ripped my tree and two more right out of the ground. "Unh!" I grunted as the pressure slammed me against the wood so hard it cracked around me. These things are the size of ten-story buildings, this is bullshit! I tore a big chunk of wood, infused it with chakra and tossed it out of the danger zone. "Fuck you Obito, false advertising piece of shit, how is Orochimaru so much better at doing damage than you?!"

Orochimaru slithered into view above me and shot my way like a rattlesnake. "Compliments will get you everywhere!"

Substitution! The chunk of wood was in my place and now I was mid-air. "Stop sounding so aroused you freak!"

"Wind Style: Great Breakthrough!"

The plainly-spoken version of the technique was even stronger just to spite me, and so were the next three.

I swore all the way to the ground, so loud that it actually carried over the gale.

Hashirama cell analysis complete.

Dual-layer plasma without autonomy of their own, one layer own plasma sheathe (Yang), one layer formed of the plasma sheathe of the planet (Nature), Hashirama cells are constantly performing senriki and applying the process of shinju energy metabolisation, explains why they act as infinite power batteries, explains why mokuton can absorb chakra, the whole role of the Shinju was to do that and feed it to the fruit.

Functionality comprehended, Anami – Hashirama cell incompatibility resolved, Hashirama functionality assimilated, regeneration optimized, regeneration automated, homeostasis recovery automated, mental partition freed.

Senriki discerned. Senriki solves all bottlenecks obstructing Mokuton deployment. Chakra generation is intrusive process, disrupts energy balance, overcoming limitation requires complete removal of chakra pathway system, Senriki cannot be deployed, assign newly vacant partition to develop alternative.

Senjutsu discerned. Senjutsu solves all bottlenecks obstructing Mokuton deployment. Anami cell homeostasis dependent on minimal chakra pathway system activity, sage energy state requires chakra quantity well beyond Anami tolerances, will disrupt biofeedback essential to continued mental and bodily performance, overcoming limitation requires time-consuming exposure therapy, senjutsu cannot be deployed.



…Mid-battle power-ups are stupid anyway.

Assign newly vacant partition to sensory augmentation, apply mid-range audio-visual phenotypes, ninshu re-establised, activate Third Eye of the Anchorite.

THUD

I landed on my feet. Which, because I'm ever so amazing at prolonging my own suffering, means I got buried all the way to my knees like the guy on the bad end of a wrestling match with an ogre, because why not play at being Prince Charming in the twilight minutes of my life?

"Fucking ninja and their inertia fuckery bullshit!" My native Irish spilled forth as I struggled to wrench myself free of the dry loam. "Fucking parasite, symbiosis my ass, tighter than a camel's hole in a sandstorm, getting anything out of you is like tossing an apple through a tennis racket, fucking dryshite pox bottle hoor!"

"My word, such a foul mouth!"

"You don't even know what language that is, fucking cunt-"

"Indeed, such novel words! I look forward to exploring their meaning together, doctor~"

Substitution! Yes, I had also shoved chakra into the trunk at the same time I performed the last one, impossible to most people but not when you could think twice or more at once-

["G̸E̶T̵ ̵a̸w̵A̶y̴ ̵f̶r̴o̸m̸ ̸m̴y̵ ̴F̸a̸T̷H̷E̸R̴ ̸Y̵o̸U̶ ̶s̸o̴N̵ ̶o̸F̶ ̴A̷ ̷w̷h̴o̸R̶e̴!̴"]

Ninshu buffeted my mind with such clarity that all my mental partitions crashed at once.

"… K-Kenzo?"

My voice was completely lost in the noise, the dragon of lightning and blood impacted right in the spot where I used to be, the spot where Orochimaru was, ahead and above the pile of fallen timber under which I'd managed to displace.



It…

It was…

It was… strange to dissociate. Dissociation should mean that your mind disengages in the face of overwhelming duress, leaving you in an unthinking or at least unfeeling reactionary mode than you're not supposed to be aware of, not supposed to be aware during, or even remember after the episode passed. Even if you're still aware, it should still feel like the world isn't real... And it all could take anywhere from minutes to hours, days, even months if the trauma is bad enough. At least that's the best way I understood it, I wasn't a psychologist.

To be aware during it… it was like I suffered it but also experienced it with total awareness while it was going on. Like a spectator in my own body listening to my thoughts getting away from me all at once. All the thought strings. All the partitions. All at the same time. All trying to understand the same thing but sliding down slopes that only went farther and farther from each other. Things I'd done to myself. Things I hadn't. Things I'd thought about myself. Things I'd thought about others. And then there were all the things I'd thought about everything happening to me, affecting me, latching to me… up until they weren't.

All of my thought streams deduced 'my son was the Yin leech all along after all' but they didn't conclude, just… kept running on and on, wondering how, why, whether it was all of him, part of him, why he was here, how. Whether he was the reason that so many things happened that that didn't make sense about plasma balls, when their structures started out so basic that some people might not consider them to qualify as life at all, never mind intelligence, sentience, sapience. All of them… such worthy questions and answers…

Has Kenzo been haunting me? I wondered incredulously, completely removed from everything going on in my brain. Ghosts are a thing? Is Naruto's canonical fear of ghosts more than comic relief? Is this like… Like Kato Dan' Spirit Transformation technique?

Not for the first time, I wondered how the Impure Word Resurrection Technique came about.

But I was past caring enough about that at this point. Or anything else.

I'd long since skipped past the whirlpools of my mind, straight to pondering…

That... creature.

It was running on Anami fumes. It was already half the size from when it started.

Kenzo… If that's really you, what will happen to you in seventeen minutes?

Belatedly, I remembered I was connected to the dragon thing via ninshu. My thought seemed to throw the apparition into a frenzy, the shredding impacts escalated, the roars turned angry, defiant, frantic as it was suddenly torn between looking to tear Orochimaru to pieces and looking for me. Angry, defiant and frantic enough in its split focus that it gave Orochimaru just a second too long to act.

"Kuchiyose: Gojū Rashōmon!"

The Summoning Technique: Quintuple Rashōmon trapped the rampaging dragon in a colossal box made of demonic doors each the size of skyscrapers.

My mind… was aflame with many thoughts, but I was still hung up – hung up on...

Am I about to suffer my baby boy's death a second time?

When the hands burst through the ground and yanked me down by my ankles, I realized this was the first time in a year that I'd genuinely lost track of my surroundings.

Orochimaru hasn't been losing, I thought grimly as the hold on my legs pulled me deep, deep, deep into the earth through the ground like it was water. He still has goodly chakra left, and he's been using his techniques sparingly. He'll outlast the blood dragon if their fight resumes.

I simulated escape scenarios, but I'd seen enough of my surroundings to know I was too far from Konoha to make it back, before Orochimaru dealt with the distraction and caught up to me again. The trees here, they were big by my standards, but ten story-tall was still small compared to the ones around the carefully culled field of fire outside Konoha's walls, never mind the almost mile-deep combat crater known as the Forest of Death. We'd covered a long way. I simulated combat scenarios just to be thorough, but in all of them the snake man trounced me handily. Even the ones where I had all my biomass and strength and [The Sacrifice] with me gave me middling odds of escape.

I don't generate chakra fast enough to spam the Celestial Gates long enough to make up the difference, and anything else would be too slow.

I felt a last flare of outraged panic from the trapped blood dragon before I was once again pulled out of ninshu's range and kept going.



… It was just as well.

I wasn't going to let my kid die alone anyway. Not even one that had been actively driving me to suicide for the past six years by sucking out all my will to live. For some reason. Somehow.

Are any other reinforcements on the way?

I scanned around with Third Eye of the Anchorite, only to realize Orochimaru had already dragged me half a mile underground and was still going. Looking farther, I could sense four auras coming in, over twelve miles out, Hyuuga Hiashi, Aburame Shibi and two more, unfamiliar and weaker. Too far away to make a difference, especially if they happened to lack an earth specialist that could dig me out. Assuming Hiashi thought to look down here to find me at all, could his Byakugan see this deep? Not in omnidirectional mode, definitely.

I can't get out of this on my own. Not as I am now.

Even with my best asset deployment, all simulations concluded in complete certainty of my loss.

There's so much I still want to do, I thought testily as I felt fangs at my neck again. Then again, last time I died I was feeling the exact same despite being a decrepit old man.

A last hurrah maybe? Open all Celestial Gates and keep them that way, all the way to losing my other abilities? And my life, however long that took. I'd get at least a couple of good hits in. I could prevent him from carrying me off, if nothing else. I should be able to stay conscious longer than him without air.

We finally came to a halt.

… Why did we stop? I thought Orochimaru was trying to run away with me again?

"What have you done?" Orochimaru's voice hissed in my ear, muffled by packed earth from where he was injecting a second cursed seal. "How have you done this? Your chakra-" His words stalled. "-You defeated my cursed seal, unbelievable. Your pathway system, so wasted but so developed despite that. Your body truly has reached perfection, hasn't it? Magnificent," the Snake Sannin's words all but wantonly shivered. "How fortunate, how convenient." Suddenly, there was more than venom and chakra pouring into me. "For me!"

The Cursed Seal's purpose was to make the victim's chakra pathway system strong and wide enough to handle Orochimaru's own chakra system literally entering it and taking it over from the inside. Wholesale. That was why he needed to prepare hosts ahead of time. This was why he had no reservations about cultivating Sasuke Uchiha until he had such a ridiculous power output. And that was why he didn't need to do the same with me. Getting rid of his seal just made him more curious. In making him try to give me a new one properly, I'd gone and revealed I'm all ready for him without it right now, fuck me, right?

This is what I get for only training with the Eight Celestial Gates.

I'd focused on feats of explosive power too, activation and discharge as quickly as possible. As suddenly as possible. With as much power as was possible to deploy in a single instant so it wouldn't escape and cause problems to the Anami super cells or anything else.

"These channels, this body, such quality and – you've even recreated the Hashirama cells! My dear doctor, please don't tell me you've been preparing yourself for me all this time!" Orochimaru exclaimed as the fangs in my shoulders withdrew. The rocky earth shifted away, away from me, harshly.

I had ample time thanks to my accelerated perception to take in Orochimaru's true form, hazy and off-colour as it was under infravision. A massive white snake that was composed of a myriad smaller snakes.

"To think I was actually considering a retreat, perhaps leaving a somewhat larger piece of myself as a gift, but after such a display how could I not believe in you, my good doctor?"

You mean believe that my body can cope with the Living Corpse Reincarnation just as it is right now?

My chakra system had developed ridiculously since that first time. Because that's what happens when the nuclear option is also the only chakra-based option you have that isn't guaranteed to fuck up your ability to use everything else. Never mind what it would do to me if I allowed it to build up to the maximum, instead of constantly letting it drain out. My main chakra channels were middling at best, but the capillary-like sections responsible for chakra generation were a thick weave connected to every last one of my cells by now. More, each collector tributary was thicker and wider than Orochimaru's primary paths. If I were only interested in the Uzumaki 'vitality', my chakra capacity would be greater than anyone in the village by now.

It really sucks when your tech tree is incompatible with everyone else's.

The white snake opened its maw so horrendously wide that it swallowed me in a single bite.

Joyful defiance it is.

My surroundings were replaced by an odd, seemingly endless mental plane made of flesh. Flesh that began to wriggle and rise up, crawl up my feet, further up my legs and higher, higher and higher, thicker and thicker until I was completely swathed in wet, throbbing meat that wriggled with countless tiny serpents. They slithered their way into me through every entry point they could find, my mouth, my nostrils, my ears, around my eyes into my skull, down my throat, through my navel, up through my anus and even my urinary meatus –

M-maybe not that joyful after all.

I dissociated, intentionally this time. Better to be a disconnected observer while all my emotional investment went to something less traumatising. Orochimaru's behaviour, that was as good a mystery as any. Orochimaru…

How much did I advance his research? That he didn't even hesitate to use this technique without being in a hospital setting, never mind a mile underground? The technique… it was working.

My body's already Orochimaru's ideal host, damn.

The snake sannin – somehow he'd figured out how to possess his own chakra pathway system. It wasn't just the mind wandering off like everyone did naturally during dreams, he'd figured out how to detach his Yin from his actual body and anchor it onto the pseudo-Shinju instead. As for his memories, those were a simple matter for any ninja versed in clone techniques, the chakra could store them and even the emotions and instincts of the original, that's why clones ca play out the choices of the original. And the soul…

I could see it, it was… sewn into the living world by threads, and those threads were the snakes making up his white body. It was a false life, undeath, but then… was there even a difference when your body was made up of so many different interchangeable components?

Orochimaru was the ship of Theseus in real time, made up of unnatural things living an unnatural life in unnatural ways. Snakes were solitary ambush predators, but Orochimaru operated like a whole hive mind of them, numbering in the thousands but working as one. Because their will belonged to the same self-concept, the same soul, conveyed down via threads of spirit like puppet strings.

Bloody freak sure knows how to make the best of his time, I concluded as the foreign chakra pathway system that was the Orochimaru serpent colony overran my own, filled it from the inside, converging on my primary pathways. I could see his purpose, the Celestial Gates and the complete control they could usurp through it. His Yin set itself against mine, but I gave no resistance, folding around it instead, brushing through its edges so that I knew him even as he knew only what I wanted him to know of me. The crude skill of a new ninshu practitioner facing someone with no skill at all.

Nothing crude about his mad science though. Is it even mad when it can't blow up in your face anymore?

Whatever had prevented him from pulling back out after Sasuke suppressed him, those limitations didn't exist here. I could see it, in ninshu and in the cells alike. At any time he could just snake back out and then leave while his pursuers stopped to save me from the pit. Maybe inject me with a whole bunch of cursed seals. He could even take a literal pound of flesh or three on the way out.

Then he could take his time coming for me later, assuming he didn't just use my cells to rework his own body. He wouldn't get most of the good stuff because Anami souls, unlike Hashirama ones, aren't cell-bound. Not a one had been stolen by Obito along with my flayed skin for the same reason. But both lunatics could still figure out a lot just from the biomodifications.

S-rank missing ninja are terrifying.

Unfortunately for both of them, I did know the meaning of discretion. Which is to say, nobody knows what biofeedback and control I actually have, no matter how many drugs may or may not have been breathed or injected at midnight.

I wanted to figure out the mini-Shinju, I thought wistfully.

The chakra pathway serpents reached my main pathways and found them to be no bigger than their tributaries. The snakes got tangled. The ones behind tried to push through only to make the tangle even worse. And when Orochimaru decided to push the matter by way of my brain, he absolutely stopped. Froze. Everything. All at once. His shock was visceral, bewildering, heavy both in my flesh and in our spirits.

I really wanted to figure out the mini-Shinju, but I'll settle for righteous murder.

"What have you done?"
Orochimaru balked, both inside my head and 'outside' in the mental plane, beyond the meat cocoon. "Where is the Kaimon?!"

Oh, you weren't there for my talk with Hiashi,
I mused as my cells completed their counter-invasion of Orochimaru's own body. How fortunate, how convenient, for me. My cells hooked onto my own chakra system. More of them latched onto every foreign cell connected to every last trace of alien implant outside my body. More still poured and latched onto the alien thing directly. Then all of them, all at once, they pulled.

With a shocked gasp heard inside and out, everything that was Orochimaru was fully pulled into me.

Seal all major orifices, plug all tenketsu, close every last pore.

My eyelids fused with the skin of my cheeks, thick muscle and skin grew to cover my mouth, my ears, my nostrils, my sweat glands fused shut, my anus disappeared, my urinary orifice and then the whole urethra all the way to my bladder, they all filled in, the skin on my body fused until it was all one continuous surface, so smooth as if it had been laminated. Grow bone armor. The Kaguya bloodline was easy to replicate at my level of biocontrol. Subdermal, continuous structure.

"Wh-what is this, how are you – what are you doing?!"

Unambiguous good.


Dismantle Kyumon.

The Gate of Healing ripped to pieces as my Anami cells got to work.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"

Sacrificing 12.5% potential comprehension of the Ootsutsuki biotechnology one gate at a time.


Dismantle Seimon.

The Gate of Life disappeared.

"What-"

Dismantle Tamon, the Gate of Limit.

"No…" The Orochimaru pathway system began to churn, thrash, push out every way it could, struggling to-

Dismantle Keimon, the Gate of View.

"No, you can't!"

Dismantle Kyomon, the Gate of Wonder.

"Stop!"

Dismantle Shimon, the Gate of Death.

"I SAID STOP, DAMN YOU!"

I stopped. Not because of his plea, but because I'd deliberately left the Gate of Pain for last, so Orochimaru got to feel everything. Every last second, every last moment as I commanded the Anami cells to destroy every last trace of the shinju parasite they could find.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARH!"

Destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy!

"CURSE YOU, MASANARIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii…!"

Dismantle Shōmon.

With a final scream, the snake man died.

And as my Yin unspooled, free for the first time from the wretched pull of the thing inside me, I watched as his Yin came undone until it could hold nothing. I watched his soul as it fell loose of the last bounds to the living world and began to fall into the dark.

It seems, in the end, that Yomi is not make-believe in this world.

Orochimaru had been so close to ninshu. His Living Corpse Reincarnation was basically ninshu unto itself, almost exactly what Hashirama had achieved, except instead of plants it was snakes. It was honestly quite tragic.

But psychopaths will do as psychopaths will.

And I will do what I will.

Shinto placed the greatest emphasis on this life than on any afterlife, but it still espoused belief in a human soul. The mitama. Tamashii. The conception wasn't a perfect overlap with mine, but the tamashii was believed to contain four aspects. Right now, I could see Orochimaru's body, the mind, the spirit and the soul break apart from each other and each meet different ends. The body fell apart in its constituent parts, all the snakes dead or mindless. The mind faded as it came apart from the spirit. The spirit, the Yin… According to Shinto beliefs it should survive bodily death and continue to assist the living, eventually becoming part of the family kami after 33 years… but what family did Orochimaru have? Who would even accept his help, even, before and after? Never mind seek it out? What gods would bother with him, even?

And the soul… It was bound to the land of Yomi.

Rest in pieces, you poor, uneducated swine.

It turned out that the Buddhist afterlife beliefs held some truth as well, on this world.

Though with even the spirit realms in such a sorry state, fixing anything will take a lot more doing than even my most pessimistic projections.

The Shinju's physical, living half may have been broken apart and sealed, but the fact it had been a living thing meant it had a soul. A soul, and the spirit to go with the rest. The Yin.

That Yin was grown through the dimensional layers, through the spirit of the world like its physical half had once grown through the living world. It wasn't eating anything now, but it had been, once upon a time. An ugly parody of Yggdrasil that failed to grow upward through the Four Realms of Enlightenment. That succeeded in growing through all Six Realms of Samsara. A long, thick shoot that went up into the land of the Devas and Asuras, and down from the Human realm through the Animal and Preta all the way into Naraka. Hell.

As far as ancestral bequests go, this is the worst I've ever seen.

Or was it? Maybe it was just a metaphor for the effect the Shinju had on the world, on the souls living in it, on the memories and beliefs that might have reflected upon the Six Realms during the time of the pods. What had been reflected in the ages since too, maybe, from within the individual realms of souls sleeping in their deathly dreams. The Shinju hadn't had time to even begin spreading its roots to fill the realms outward, surface-wise. Insofar as surface is even a thing in the other planes. But it dug deep, so deep that it got foothold in all six of them, had taken root in them, both up and down – no. Wait.

Now that I was stretched so far and so high, I could see over the branches and vines surrounding it. The Shinju wasn't grown through the realms, exactly, it was grown through the immense thing spanning them. Through its limbs, its body, its neck, one branch was even sticking out through one of the figure's eye sockets, like a dry worm made of white bone. A thing made of limbs and masks, mechanical and puppet. The King of Hell

Is this why the Rinnegan can summon it? And Nagato's Paths, is this why he's able to do what he does with those eyes?

What in Good God's name am I supposed to do about this? The Ten Realms were supposed to describe the degrees of enlightenment that course through them. If what I was seeing was a metaphor, it did not say good things about the world's sanity. If it wasn't a metaphor, that meant even the afterlife was broken on this planet, unbelievable.

Why isn't anyone fixing this? Where are the gods? Are they dead too?

Seemed like a bit too much to expect from even the Ootsutsuki, never mind Kaguya.

I reviewed what I knew of this world's human history. The very on the nose names of certain people and beasts flashed through my mind. The very on the nose name of the Monkey King Enma came to the forefront. Several different theories were updated and refined. None were dismissed.

Maybe the gods just don't exist yet.

This world, it's young. Maybe the kami from the Uchiha technique names were just that – kami. Family kami, at that. The Kotoamatsukami may or may not exist in the upper realms, where the Shinju didn't reach. Maybe they only disappeared because they went off to order new worlds long ago, once this was done. You could easily claim the same for Earth, given the identical myth. I wasn't in a position to speculate on them though, never mind their existence or motivations. But what about the god I do objectively know exists?

What about the Shinigami?

Looking upon the Ten Realms, I couldn't see anything like that horned thing. I wasn't surprised, the realms stretched beyond my fathoming and I was seeing them from far away, from the boundary in between. It wasn't like I could spot anything in Naraka from all the way here either, besides crawling or floating oulines of shadowy flames. Then again, space was definitely more of a suggestion in other dimensions. Knowing the thing, naming the thing should summon the thing, if any magic or occult phenomena is to make any amount of sense. Then again, 'shinigami' wasn't a name at all, it was a title. A qualifier.

More than that… it also made sense that a psychopomp entity wouldn't spend most of its time on the other side, didn't it? They wouldn't be able to do their job.

Kami, daemons, dwarves, house spirits, sylphs, trolls, all spirits in any form of animism, they aren't extradimensional entities, they exist in the same living world as mankind.

And in either world, this or my last, there was never a single entity called 'shinigami.' Shinigami was just a word used to refer to demons that drove people to suicide, or often double suicide. Like Minato and Kushina here. They did a sacrifice play, and while the Shinigami didn't instigate it, the situation, the outcome, its inevitability once the Shinigami became involved, everything else fit. The only question left was why it was an exclusively Uzumaki thing.

No, that's not a mystery either, is it?

If that entity was specifically tied to the Uzumaki, and even seemed to be controlled by them... Maybe it was one of those evil spirits bound into servitude towards the family it aggrieved. Nipponese folklore, here and on Earth, it was full of such things. Demons, Oni and who knew what else bound in prayer beads. Now that I thought about it, the Shinigami didn't do anything on its own when called through the Dead Demon Consuming Seal. Not unless you shoved chakra at it. If anything, it seemed to drag things out as long as possible. It certainly took your soul regardless of whether you got it to do what you summoned it for.

All of which makes sense if the creature isn't serving willingly.

Maybe all those cursed seals on it have nothing to do with the summoner at all, maybe they're there to force him to compliance. Hence the need to keep pumping him full of your chakra. It's not that you're paying it with it, after all, what need or use would a spirit have for it? Chakra isn't even native to humanity, never mind the astral and spirit planes.

If the real purpose of the technique's chakra cost is to power the controlling sealing array to force the Shinigami to your will…

But now I was getting distracted again, something I very much couldn't afford while my dumbass son was dying again, because the first time around wasn't bad enough on its own apparently.

"Fuck my life."

"You would make those your first words upon entering the Pure Land, only you, husband."

There was a hand on my shoulder. I reached up to it. I felt dainty fingers beneath mine. I turned around.

"Daddyyy!"

I barely caught sight of my wife and three unfamiliar men some yards behind her when my dead daughter crashed into my arms.


Chapter 15, which is quite likely the longest chapter this story will ever see at over 18,000 words, can be found on Patreon (karmicacumen), Ko-fi (karmicacumen) and Subscribestar (karmic-acumen), along with the advance chapters on The Unified Theorem, and Reset the Universe.
 
Aye, it seems to have "jumped the shark" in much the same way monster trucks jump entire lines of cars.

I'll admit much of the mystical goes waaaaaay over my head, but I still want to see more of this.
 
Chapter 15: The Meditation of Heaven and Earth (I)

Karmic Acumen

Well-known member
A/N: Since people have expressed dislike for it, this is probably the last time I bother with 'technobabble.' Rejoice, I guess?

Brace yourselves though, because this one is long.



What-the-other-guys-thought-would-happen.png


Chapter 15: The Meditation of Heaven and Earth

(I)

"-. ??? .-"

"Dadyyy!" My daughter Yui tearfully barrelled into my arms. "I'm sorryyy! I was so scared and Kenzo was a stupid head and then I was a stupid head too and I didn't mean it! I didn't want to go, we didn't want to go even though mom told us we should, we wanted to stay with you and you went all boom – warm and shiny, I thought you were telling us to stay!"

Can I buy a vowel?

"I thought it would be okay, it should've been okay, you always made it okay, why wasn't it okay? You were so big all of a sudden! But we just went and made you want to die! For years! We're terrible! And then the dad stealer showed up and the bad ninja snooped around and I thought I finally had a way to make you notice me, those squiggly things actually reacted to me, I didn't mean to do it! I didn't mean to make them fall on you, I'm so sorry daddy, please forgive meee!"

My dead wife had just pulled me into Heaven despite the fact I was very much not dead. Hagoromo Ootsutsuki was ever so conspicuously floating with his eyes closed over yonder in the middle of the infinite white. His two sons were also waiting with him over yonder. And my dead daughter had just apologized for making me spend six years wanting to kill myself. And whatever the rest of that was.

What is even happening right now? "… Yui, honey, Daddy's really sorry but he's going to need you to go over that again, very slowly."

Alas, my long-dead daughter completely lost her nerve and proceeded to wail snotfully in my make-believe dress shirt. Yes, snotfully. It's the afterlife, I can make up entirely new words if I want to.

This had better be happening at least a thousandth of a fraction of normal speed or I'm gonna… do something.

I hugged my daughter tight and delighted in our reunion for… a subjective eternity, my neurons seemed to be firing at the speed of tectonic plates back in the living world.

Good enough.

I reached out blindly for where my wife stood. When she knelt next to me, I gathered her into my arms until Yui was wrapped up in both of ours. Then I just… held them both. I held them tight until my daughter's sobbing wails petered out. Then a bit more until my eyes dried too. "I miss you both."

That set my daughter off all over again.

I felt no shame in using that as an excuse to hold the both of them even longer. I raked my fingers through my daughter's hair and buried my nose in my wife's. Her scent was of the rain. How ever so appropriate.

It was a long time later that I finally started to have mind to spare for other things again. Like the three voyeurs over there. And the wave form patterns making up my mind and my memories, shaping in and out of my spirit, up and down through dimensions all the way to the living plane. Even those patterns moved so slowly, but that only made it possible to see them better. They looked like fractals and facets of a whole, made of prismatic spectrums flowing with sinuous arcs of lightning all throughout. Altogether, combined they looked like… me. A bright and rumpled, me, but still me. I looked…

Actually, I looked kind of terrible.

Fuck me, I have brittle spirit disease.

Like brittle bone disease, but for the parts that my soul relied on to… exert Self-hood. Do anything. If the physical body was a flesh and bone mech that my brain piloted, and the mind and memory were what my soul used to pilot the brain itself, then the spirit was the underlying system interlinking all of them. The body of my will and personality. And the body of my will and personality was not in the best state at all. Like a sheet of paper that had been crumpled as tightly as possible for all my life. Now that I was finally unfolding back into my proper shape, I was at risk of bits of me shearing or tearing off at every crinkle. Some already had.

There were gaping rips running through me too. Ripped right out as if something had been pulled out of me. Two of them. Big ones. One very recent, and one about half a year old. The parts of me around the wounds were the thinnest. Threadbare.

I'll fold to any Yin attack like wet paper, won't I? Wet paper, that's practically what I am.

Thinned and crumpled paper breaking apart under its own freedom after being folded over and over into a progressively smaller ball for my entire life. Like a sketch of me as the Vitruvian man, except someone had snatched it, folded it over and over around two hooks countless times over the course of my life, squeezed it also for my entire life, tore the hooks right out, then dropped me into a puddle of my own blood in a filthy ditch where I only now began to unfold back into my proper shape in the mud. With chunks missing. And more falling apart at the overstressed edges.

If I try to exert any will, my spirit in any way, never mind Yin release, will part of my spirit just… permanently break off from the strain? Now that the chakra pathway system isn't pulling it all in one place anymore? It's already happening even without me doing anything.

The chakra pathway system did this. The Shinju implant did this to me. How like a parasite, to make the host body unable to endure after its removal.

My wife finally reached up to stroke my cheek sympathetically. "What our daughter is telling you, dear husband, is that she's ever so sorry for completely ignoring me when I tried to take them along with me to the hereafter when the Kyuubi killed us. Also, she's the reason your furniture almost killed you back when the Uzumaki boy broke into your house. Well, half the reason at least."

What. "…Ume, my dear wife, if that's really who you are."

"I am."

"You know how I'm, reasonably speaking, relatively intelligent."

"I know that better than I ever did while I was alive, I'll tell you that much, dear."

Not for the first time, I contemplated how Yui and Kenzo had to have gotten it from somewhere, and it certainly wasn't me. "That doesn't mean I just know everything ex nihilo. I need context."

My wife pulled away and rose. Waited for me to do the same.

I reluctantly complied, lifting Yui into my arms as I did. She clung to me hard and refused to let go. Good. I wasn't ready to let go either.

"Death was sudden and confusing," Ume told me, knitting her fingers with mine. "It took me a while to realize I'd perished, but our children didn't realize it at all, even as they saw the world so very differently because of their sudden out of the body experience. That was when you had your past life awakening, and it came with a massive surge in your Yin energy, several times over. It was bright and enthralling. In their dying dream, Kenzo and Yui thought you were casting some sort of protection technique. It didn't matter to them that you weren't a shinobi, they weren't thinking. They latched onto you, and you latched onto them right back in your moribund desperation."

While buried alive, the time in the darkness, the pain, the air loss, all of it had given me plenty of hallucinations. If not all of it was hallucinations, then I knew exactly what she was talking about. "So it was Yin bestowal gone wrong, just in the opposite direction. It was from me to them."

"Yes," my wife said sympathetically. "For six years."

Fuck my life.

"You gave and gave and gave them so much that they, like the selfish children they are, decided that meant they were entitled to it forever. Most of what your spirit draws from the ether has been going to them all this time."

So this is why I can't stand kids anymore, I've been forced to suffer a couple of the clingy brats every moment of my life since they died, fuck my life on repeat.

"I thought we were dreaming," Yui sniffled into my bosom. "It was weird. It's still weird. But it was so nice! It didn't even take that long, how were we supposed to know? I dreamed about being a giant talking duck once, for three hundred and fourteen years!" My daughter deflated and clung to my neck even tighter. "M'stupid, I shoulda known the difference."

Why that specific number?

"They wouldn't hear a word to the contrary," my wife said. "Not in the few days I was able to cling to the living world. After that, it was either pass on or become a sore on your spirit myself." She looked at me with self-deprecation. "There was no family Kami waiting to greet us, and I wasn't nearly enough to become one all on my own. It took years for our children to realize what they were doing to you in their selfishness. And it took you practically dying for one of them to let you breathe and come running to me in shame."

I rubbed my face, then looked at Ume in despair. "Wife. Why are both our children such complete morons?"

"Daddy!"

Yui, Kenzo Naruto, even Shisui by association, all the brats in my life almost killed me, they got closer than Orochimaru and even Uchiha Obito, how in all the heavens and hells is this my life?

"I don't know, husband," Ume replied dolefully. "They don't get it from me, and they certainly don't get it from you."

No shit they don't, fuck my life on a never-ending loop

At least I endured. I didn't disappoint them completely.

Wait, hold the door. "Kenzo only just now unhooked from me," I said slowly. "Yui, honey… what did you mean about squiggly things?"

My daughter whimpered.

Ume huffed. "There were nin-who-must-not-be-named in your house before you finally caught the Third's ear. From what was explained to me," she side-eyed the trio keeping their distance. "They put some manner of seal on the wall, specifically made to be triggered later, remotely in case you needed to be disposed of deniably. It would have induced some manner of decay effect in the wall that would have made it easy to tip those shelves over, even through several walls and a street away."

And crash the upper floor on my head too, I bet, if that wasn't enough.

"Unfortunately, Yui became jealous of the Uzumaki child when you didn't immediately throw him out of the house when you caught him breaking and entering. Since the seals actually reacted to her ghostly tantrum, a function of fuinjutsu's partial Yin-based mechanics I'm told, she decided to throw as much as she could at it just to see what happened. And what happened was the seals activated while you were handing duct tape to the boy. "

"I wanded you do fidally nodice be," Yui blubbered into my collarbone. "I didn't bean do gill you, Daddy."

"What was that?"

"The Pure World is abundant in ether," Ume answered me. "The human spirit feeds and heals even idle here. Once it's strong enough, a soul can venture down to the other realms, for however long our spirit has energy. After the shelves bashed you on the head, I appeared to her and lied to her and her brother that it was lethal, and the only way for you to come back was if they let you go."

"What?!" Yui hiccupped, twisted in my arms to glare at her mother accusingly. "You lied about that? Mom, how could you?!"

"Don't give me that look, young lady, it was either that or watch you actually succeed in killing your father next time you had a tantrum."

Yui shrunk in my arms.

"I'm only sorry that Kenzo didn't also believe me. He believed I meant it, but he also believed I was wrong to 'think dad could possibly be so weak' in his own words." Ume gave me a chagrined look. "He always believed in you over anything and anyone else. Even when it was plain to see that the longer he stuck to you like a leech, the more you went on without getting better."

So it was either become a liar in Heaven, or watch them be even more traumatised when they finally drove me to suicide. I appreciated my wife not outright saying so, though. I also liked to think I was strong enough not to give up like that too, despite… living for three? Surely I couldn't complain that hard, when there are people who strive and provide for families in the double digits. My situation was just… a bit more literal. Magically speaking.

Yeah, I can't picture myself saying that with a straight face either.

Could I, perhaps, the best dad ever?

Then again. "How did I not get the slightest hint about this? I had to have dreamed too, sometimes."

"They ate up all the energy you'd have used for that," Ume shrugged her dainty shoulders. "Dreams are the mind wandering around, but it takes Yin energy for the spirit to stretch after it, never mind feed it. The moment your sleeping mind drifted where they were, all the Yin energy went out of it too and your mind slipped into numb torpor. Every night of insomnia, every dreamless sleep, every morning when you woke up feeling just as mentally burned out as the night before, it all came from the same place."

Good God.

Well.

Wasn't that something?

It was at that point that a voice other than ours intruded upon our heavenly reunion.

"Even the deepest well will dry up if enough mouths drink from it unceasingly."

"Hagoromo Ootsutsuki." The Sage of the Six Paths. He was talking to me. I turned so Yui was on the other side of me from the horned man and his two non-horned offspring that had finally approached. "Sage. And sons. Hello."

"Hey now, no need to hide the little one from us," Asura said brightly. "After all, we've been around for quite some time. If we wanted to do something to her, we could easily have before this."

I gazed evenly at the man. "And you can just as easily do good and ill after this, I'm sure, depending on how much I irritate you."

"Oh, you don't need to worry," the man said as guilelessly as I'd expect from Naruto. "It takes a lot to actually annoy us." Asura glanced at Indra, who was standing aside from him and his father with his arms crossed, looking at me like I wasn't worth all this attention. "Well, most of us – but don't worry! I'll protect you from the mean ol' grump over there!"

If this were a story, this is where I'd find out the ever so grand – or petty – circumstances that led to my reincarnation and remembering my past life in this heretofore fictional world. Now that the moment had finally come, though, I just wasn't interested. And it wasn't just because I was all out of fucks to give about grand revelations. The reason was a lot simpler. "Unverifiable information."

Asura blinked. "Eh?"

"Unverifiable information," I handed my daughter off to my wife.

Yui squirmed until she was put down, though, and hid behind me. She grabbed onto my shirt while peeking around to look.

I rolled my eyes. "Don't pretend you're all shy and scared now, girl, I saw where you came running to me from."

"Daddy!"

"Brat." I ruffled her hair, but she didn't pull away so I left my hand on her head. I looked to Asura. "As I was saying, I don't know you any more than I know your brother. For all I know, he's a great guy."

Asura's smile disappeared as his eyebrows rose. "I suppose I should have seen that coming, seeing as it's you. I admit, I'm still on the fence about what you truly aim to do with those writings and drawings."

"We all know where all written history comes from." When the victors have to censor and reframe events, it doesn't necessarily mean the good guys lost, but only because there probably weren't any good guys involved at all, at least by the end. "Also, he's up here in the Pure Land instead of down in Yomi or whatever." In other words, Indra couldn't have been all that bad in life if he reincarnated upwards. Or did he reincarnate as a man a few more times before he finally got it? Also, unless the other two were projecting down here in 'Heaven' from one of the four upper realms of enlightenment, they probably hadn't made much more progress either, in terms of, well, enlightenment.

I frowned and looked at Indra. "If you're here under duress, I had nothing to do with it and presume no claim on your time." No reply. Not even a flicker on his face. I looked between Asura and the Sage. "You two didn't browbeat him into being here, did you? He clearly isn't interested in… whatever you're here for. What are you here for anyway?"

"We're just here to witness." Asura said blithely. "You are not the first to go through what's about to happen, but you are the first to do the physical part to yourself instead of someone else doing it for you. Well, mostly."

"And what, exactly, is about to happen?"

"You cannot go back as you are," the Sage himself told me this time. "You understand that, don't you?"

I was afraid of that. My spiritual body was so torn and fractured that I already wasn't sure it could fulfil its half of the Yin-Yang cycle. If the Sage of Six Paths was telling me I was right, I was right. "My spirit's going to fall apart, isn't it?" It already was, even in maximum slow motion.

"Heaven is a calm place," said the Sage. "The human realm is not, to say nothing of the others"

A trail of smoke could be used to sketch the most complex figures and images in the absence of wind, but the slightest breeze will destroy it. The living world was quite a bit more dynamic than a breeze, and a body needed more than faint wisps and vapors to breathe properly. Even metaphorically.

I had a broken spirit. Literally and figuratively.

This is why I'm feeling this big hunk of nothing too, isn't it? I was in literal Heaven, I'd just been reunited with my dead family and was breathing literal soma, nectar, ambrosia, whatever you wanted to call it, with every breath taken and word said. Forget my little emotional lapse in the hug just now, I should still be astonished and elated by my present circumstances, not… whatever this is. I'll freely admit I'm the grumpy sort, but this is ridiculous.

Meanwhile, my wife was capable of puling me into the afterlife without me even realising it until she spoke to me. The three shapers of history were all here to watch whatever was about to unfold. All peppered with ever so casual mentions of whatever 'this' is having happened before. Once.

I looked at the three debatably pure ones. "What have you three been putting in my wife's head?"

"I'm sure you've figured it out by now," Asura said blithely.

"Oh, I have an idea."

There was a myth back on Earth about Zeus eating his wife Metis. The most popular classical myth said it was about preventing the birth of the children that would have dethroned him, but older traditions treated it as an allegory for Zeus acquiring the royal wisdom required to be a successful and worthy king. Metis literally meant wisdom, skill and craft. Her personification as one of the Oceanids was only added as a religious-political element to symbolize the inheritance of authority from the prior generation of rulers (the titans) to the new generation of gods.

Then, too, I was more fond of the myth of Heracles' death and ascension, where he becomes a god after he burns on the pyre and 'marries' Hebe, the goddess of youth. The goddess responsible for keeping even the gods themselves eternally young, because yes, the Greek gods did age and die like the Norse ones without certain… sustenance. I had certain suspicions about Eris' 'golden apple' as well.

The myths that survived to our time were just the revisionist propaganda that vastly post-dated the actual truth, which was only preserved by the Mystery Schools of Heroic times. If you treated the myth as allegorical, as all myths were intended, then Hebe was just an allegory for the inexhaustible life force that Heracles gained after he ascended to a higher state of being.

I crossed my arms and looked at my wife. If, hypothetically, I allowed for the possibility that the myth could be both allegorical and literal at the same time… "Yin bestowal." It always came back to Yin bestowal, but this couldn't be the same thing as for the Mangekyou Sharingan or Susanoo or whatever. "Except my Yin can't sustain itself, never mind an extra graft. It's not about Yin energy at all, is it? The Shinju cannibalizes the spirit to generate it, but that goes against nature. The spirit is a body, not an energy pool." My wife was only ever roundabout when she was building up to something I wasn't going to like. "Ume, you… It's an all or nothing deal, isn't it?"

Yui looked at me sadly, but resolved. "It's the only way, husband."

My spirit won't amount to jack shit in a few real world minutes, she couldn't plan to merely infuse it, so what did that leave? There wasn't even enough to stitch together, there were no shreds dense enough for that. She…

I…

I raised up my hand and reached out. My wife reached back and twined her fingers with mine. When I initiated… not ninshu, but maybe what ninshu imitated? My spirit shook all at once, slightly, barely a vibration, but more than enough to start a cascading breakdown effect in its current sorry state.

Still, all at once was still slower than the speed of time here in Heaven, so it lasted me long enough for my wife's plan to become clear.

She planned to replace my entire spiritual body with all of hers. Sacrifice it to then… graft it onto the rest of me in place of my failed spirit, and grow anew into… me. What I should be. All her potential, realized and unrealized, would become mine in place of the one the Shinju parasite ruined as its final act.

In return, the 'worst' that will happen is that she'll get a fresh start in cycle of reincarnation. Which was a nice way of saying she'll die, except in Heaven this time. As a spirit. Lose all her will and current identity.

The Yin, the spiritual body, it was a lot of things, but more than anything it was accumulated experience. If she gave that up… wouldn't it be like starting from scratch? She'll be like a new soul added to the cycle of life and death. How was she so at peace with it? Would she even start as a human this time? Would she last long enough to be born at all, for that matter? Contrary to what many religions claimed, souls weren't immortal. If Buddhism continued to hold true, the then the eternal fire, the empyreal motive force of self-determination may or may not be eternal, but identity wasn't.

I pulled out of the connection.

Ume did not let go of my hand, looking at me peaceably. "You've sacrificed so much for so long, husband. Let me have my turn for once."

Since when was it routine? For that matter, since when was it a competition?

I looked at Asura, making very sure I kept my true thoughts to myself. "I'm not the first, you said."

"You walk the same path as the Uzumaki themselves, if from the opposite direction," Asura told me. "Where you walked it for yourself, the Uzumaki created this path for another. They didn't shy away from trying to walk it themselves, later, but it does not change the fact that they put all their grandest hopes and effort into someone else at first. You've already divined the identity of your forerunner."

"Senju Hashirama."

"Yes," Asura nodded proudly. "My greatest legacy."

Exhaust all chakra to induce a death-like state, use sealing to maintain that state, use sealing to induce senriki instead of senjutsu in controlled conditions, repeat regularly, for longer periods each time until the sage-like state – the chakra-independent sage-like state – is inculcated into the cells themselves in the shape of dual-layer plasma structures. The inexhaustible nature energy in the cells would empower the body independent of chakra techniques, and also be used to generate chakra indefinitely. Sage power was essentially a power tap into the dual-plasma body of the world itself.

That's how I theorised the Uzumaki did it – that's how I would have done it.

There was just one problem. "That would have led to an excess of Yang energy. And even if that didn't backfire somehow, it was still more power than a shinobi could use."

"Unless he attained a commensurate mass of Yin to assert his will," Asura nodded, pleased to see me following along. "Yin to conjure the grandest and loftiest dreams of imagination and convey them onwards, unto the world."

"Yin to conceptualise," I said, putting together the last of the puzzle pieces from my own theories and research. "Yin Release to use spiritual energy to control imagination, creating form out of nothingness. And Yang to give life to any dream and make it real, using physical energy to control vitality and give substance where it is lacking, granting life and structure to forms that have none."

"You got it," Asura clapped. Literally applauded. "As expected of you, Masanari-san!"

The Uzumaki weren't aiming for any mere power boost, they were trying to reverse-engineer the Creation of All Things.

But Hashirama… he didn't achieve it. He didn't even achieve Yin-Yang release, he 'settled' for ninshu with plants. Scaled nigh-infinitely thanks to unlimited chakra derived from sage power, and the vast awareness from the same, but still just a consolation prize. Senju Hashirama…

He was a failed experiment?

Unbelievable.

Or at least an unfinished one, maybe.

More than that… while wood release was not all that amazing by itself, the scale was. For Hashirama to achieve it would have still taken a supreme amount of spiritual power, to go with the infinite Yang energy drawn from natural energy. "He couldn't have had the Yin for it, if his situation was in any way a mirror of mine."

"There are feats of might that cannot be attained without Yin grown mighty and vast from an age here in heaven," Asura took a deep breath of the ether making up the white expanse we stood within. "You cannot conceive of the exaltation that has been prepared for you, Masanari-san. You may be questioning your wife's commitment now, but once you get even a taste of the boon she has prepared for you, you will never question its worth again."

It's not her commitment or its worth I'm questioning. "Who was it?"

"Hmm?"

"For Hashirama," I pressed. "Who made this sacrifice for him?"

Asura's smile turned soft. Proud, even. "Kawarama Senju."

I needed more than a moment to process the sheer audacity of that answer. I needed even longer to not explode at the fatherly pride. "Kawarama Senju." I prevented my hands from following through on their semi-autonomous impulse to throttle the nearest neck. "The little boy that died because his father decided he was old enough to be killed in bloody warfare before his age even hit double digits."

"I agree with your misgivings completely," Asura told me, only to prove in the same breath that he had not perceived my real misgivings. "But for all that, his harsh life and even harsher death did nothing to impede his youthful idealism, nor his love for his brother."

"… He-but-he wasn't even ten. Was he?"

"Nine," Asura said with that same vicarious pride. "It just goes to show that all evil is turned to the purpose of good eventually. Kawarama was young when he died, but that only worked to the better. All that unrealized potential readily becomes reality in the Pure World, here."

"And Hashirama agreed to it?"

"What resolve can there be, in the face of youthful innocence and hope for the future such as that? How could a man spurn his infant sibling's gift of new life so freely given? "

Is this why Hashirama acted so bipolar and childish in his Hokage years?

More importantly, what sort of person makes that a rhetorical question? "Youth is a real resource around here, then?"

"The power of youth mixed with enthusiasm and idealistic hope that only a younger brother can bring forth when star-struck by his big brother's dream, Hashirama could have asked for no better soil for his spirit to sprout anew." Asura looked at me with that same guilelessness that had driven him through this entire conversation. "A loving wife is not on the same level as the boundless energy and raw potential of childhood still unwritten, but all the same… I envy you for what you're about to experience."

Asura Ootsutsuki envied me. For reasons. Those reasons.

"I won't be able to muster that sort of miracle," my wife told me, just as oblivious to my inner turmoil as the Sage's favorite son. "I spent so much of myself in life… But it will be enough to see you through to heights you never fathomed, husband, I promise you."

"You are being gifted with power enough to change the world," the Sage rumbled, his ringed staff clinking softly as he laid it flat over his lap. "I pray you will not take this boon lightly, in the days to come."

I've already changed the world.

Heaven was just full of assumptions about power overwhelming and foregone conclusions, wasn't it?

The most earth-shattering part was that I could actually see how it might work. The last scraps of Yin energy from the dying was enough to evolve a sharingan eye into the Mangekyou Sharingan. What heights of might could an entire second Yin body lift you to? The younger the better too, apparently. The Power of Youth was not an empty phrase in the least, it seemed, Maito Gai was channelling something altogether real and amazing.

The spirit is a body, but it's also extremely malleable.

Just being in Heaven made you realize a lot of things about spirit, and not just the fact that it wasn't the same thing as the soul. You. The Yin reflected the physical self more than the reverse in all ways that mattered. It was both the propagator and the function of your experience and Self-Concept. Some impression of you would always linger, but if you gave your spirit to someone else, the structure would shift to accommodate the recipient, and everything that didn't fit would just… alchemise into the purest, densest Yin energy. Which the Self can then use to sprout and grow in its own ways, the best ways. Even if that means feeding the Yang energy itself until it catches up to match the Yin half of the cycle, in quantity and quality alike.

The power of ages-old wisdom is no empty boast either.

This was how the Sage empowered Naruto and Sasuke, wasn't it? He untangled their spiritual bodies on the spot, then wove his power boons through the rips and cracks until they attained some manner of metastability. Did he do it all spontaneously using Creation of All Things? Or does the Sage spend his afterlife preparing gifts like that in advance? Could he be working on those very same boons of power even now?

It was only metastability though, with Naruto and Sasuke, not true stability. Otherwise the power boons wouldn't have decayed over time, like the imperfect kaleidoscope eyes.

This lot really planned this out, didn't they? They chose their words most carefully to make sure my misgivings were as easy to brush aside as possible. I even believed them. I completely believed they were wholly genuine and acting in my best interests.

There was, however, one problem.

None of them even touched on the most important matter. All of them avoided, and distracted me very skilfully, from the issue of whether or not this would give me what I need to save my idiot son.

Who was currently undergoing the same spiritual self-destruction that my wife was offering to put herself through.

"I should be the one doing it," Yui's mumbling ripped me out of my paradigm-shifting epiphany.

"Not a chance in hell." My words belatedly caught up with the many thoughts I was straining to keep off my face. "Heaven either."

"Relax, husband, she doesn't have anything to give anyway." Like everyone else, my wife failed to grasp just how much I was saying 'no' to. "She and her brother spent everything they had on themselves, all those years they wasted selfishly attached to you like leeches. That's why you remained so depressed for so long – your spirit did grow stronger despite the strain of their burden, but they gradually became bigger and heavier burdens too, as their own spirits waned and they needed energy from elsewhere."

So it only takes a little Yin to maintain continuity of self, very good to know.

Yui whined. "Mom's gotten so much meaner since we died."

Well, if we're going to devolve into trivialities anyway… "Lord Sage," I said. "Do you know how I came to be in this world?"

"The same way all other souls that are not born to it, I'd imagine." Hagoromo Ootsutsuki wasn't being facetious at all.

When the world was associative instead of causal, lies were easy to see though, if you cared enough to pay attention. Neither the Sage nor his son realized how completely I disagreed with my wife's – and their – grand plan for me, but… That could speak more to their restraint and discretion than anything. This consideration for my privacy and autonomy was why I didn't have it in me to be upset with them.

Yet.

Barely. "Could you elaborate?"

"Even I cannot see the origin of all things," the Sage calmly admitted. "The Wheel of Samsara extends well beyond this lone world, the soul streams come and go as they will. It is plain to see that you have tapped into your past life experience, and that it is particularly world-shaking. But that comes from my own observation and reflection on your interactions, not some ineffable insight. As you yourself have deduced by now…" The Sage smiled wryly. "Heaven is below the realms of enlightenment for a reason."

Which didn't exclude him having reached one or all of them, and was only down here by choice right now. But I found that I didn't care enough to ask. "Do those interactions include the one with Kurama?"

"Indeed so." The man beheld me kindly. "As worried as I am about the implications that you saw some shape of the future, the changes you've wrought on the world have already rendered it null and void. I am more thankful for the kindness and respect that you showed him."

"You're welcome." It felt strange to say that, when it meant the Sage also knew my less than flattering opinions about his judgment calls. But I wasn't in the right mindset to bring that up right now either. Not after what I just heard. Not while my other child is dying – again – all the way back down in the human world. And worse.

I pondered my options, then I decided to just throw it out there, because otherwise I'd just spend my whole life wondering. "Are you at all interested in a debate about ideology?"

"Not particularly, no."

Huh. "What about philosophy?"

"That I am interested in." That – that was a compliment, right? Not a warning. Or threat. "But my own desires do not take precedence over your current crisis. I am perfectly content to wait. And if no future opportunity arises again, I am also content to let reality provide what answers it will, to whichever questions of mine still matter."

Beside his father, Asura huffed. Not Indra though, interestingly.

"Huh." Imagine that. "Well, that puts you two points above Sarutobi Hiruzen, so thanks for that. You're an alright guy."

Hagoromo chuckled. "Thank you."

And now to rudely spurn all of Heaven's grace.

I dropped down from Heaven and returned to my body, no by your leave no nothing. My spirit began to break apart immediately, even as I accelerated my cerebral sense of time to the maximum subjective time dilation I could attain. Just the languid flow of the world's own forces and energy were enough to send pieces and chunks sloughing off of me, into the earth and the stones around me, and the planes and dimensions around and below.

Not upwards though. My spirit was like a ghostly tree made of filaments thinner than spider webs, and it was collapsing. Pretty soon it would be coming apart, violently and down.

Oh well, even though I'd lost the advantage of almost unlimited time, I could still think fast enough to stay ahead of the breakdown of my personality, for a while.

First thing first – maximise assets.

Anaerobic and lightless environment is lethal to present biological configuration, deploy autotrophic phenotypes to derive sustenance and energy from own biomass. Even if my spirit and my mind shut down, my body would now last for quite a while. Certainly much longer than the seventeen minutes I had before Kenzo's bizarre dragon form began to take a toll he won't afford. No more than I could afford mine.

To die because I lost my will to live, what a ridiculous way to go.

What would happen if I lost enough spirit? Yin energy? Depression again? Narcolepsy? Spiritual malaria? Catatonia? Fifteen years in a coma until I pricked my finger on a spindle tip?

Perhaps I should also do something about the rapidly growing Yin-Yang imbalance.

Hashirama cells tended to erupt into random plant life when people like Danzo lost enough chakra that they couldn't keep them under control anymore. The ignorant might expect my cells to go haywire too, without enough of me there.

But no, I wasn't worried. I had something no one else had – the most devoted little spirit children.

I need your help, little ones. I looked at the mess my spirit had become. Everyone else saw a tragedy. I saw opportunity. For Science.

For the first time in my life – and death, now – I actually felt and saw the chunk of Yin shedding from me at the thought. But before it could be lost, the Yin was absorbed by the Anami remnants. The next thing I knew, a fair multitude of the plasma cells spit into twins. All those twins then merged together into one, single entity that grew and overlapped all the others around it while still staying distinct. The new life form then stretched down and up from the centre of my spine, through my nervous system all the way into my brain.

Yemo may no longer be with me, but his role wasn't vacant anymore.

Is that what happened before as well? I wondered, thunderstruck. Did the Yin that birthed Yemo come from me, or from Kenzo?

"Hanzo!"

My wife's voice reached me across the dimensions. Even that much was enough to send ripples across my spirit, accelerating the breakdown, but for now I could still see and interact with the other realms.

"Husband!" Ume was all haste and soul-stricken dismay as she appeared in the darkness above of me. She descended from Heaven through the packed earth and stone to the depths I'd been dragged down to. She barely stopped short of barrelling into me and making the damage even worse. "What are you doing? Why did you leave? Are you trying to kill yourself? How – how do you still live?"

Either the three didn't tell her just what my little spirits can do, or they don't know the full extent of their capabilities either.

"Husband, please, what are you doing to yourself?"

Recreating the Impure World Reincarnation Technique from first principles.

Seeing as how she was here anyway, though, that gave me an idea.

~Wife~ I couldn't speak when pressed from all sides and with my mouth full of packed earth, but I reached out with ninshu just to see if it worked. It did, though mostly thanks to her. It widened the tears and cracks in my Yin body dramatically, but it worked. ~ Rather than committing ultimate suicide, can you give me another hug instead? Hold me together? Just for a little while.~

"Hanzo you-" she cut herself off. "I'll try."

She vanished. Stretched, practically extended up and wide through the fabric of reality like only spirits could. It was like a hug, but wrapped around and diffused through my spirit, somehow.

Hopefully I won't put too much strain on her.

No more than what I was about to do, at least.

Her rapid compliance revealed its underlying duplicity when I felt her try and do what she said she would earlier, despite my wishes.

Yeah, no.

I flatly refused to accept anything she bestowed.

Sorry, wife, but Kintsugi just isn't good enough.

Just because it works on a broken plate doesn't mean it can work on people.

More importantly.

~ Our vows were only until death, woman, there is no binding or debt here. I can understand not moving on for our children's sake, but this? No. ~

Faced with her grandest sacrifice going to utter waste, she resigned herself to doing as I asked. If she was infusing what she could anyway, in the major cracks where my will no longer held any sway anymore, I had neither the awareness nor the will to argue about it.

My spirit is failing, so my body will just have to make up the difference.

And if even that proved not enough…

I'm fine putting my faith in my tiny creations.

A subtle but heartfelt response came through my intuition, and I was, for the first time ever, both willing and able to take it for what it was.

Not projection.

I love you too, little ones. Now let's all of us do our best.

Create record of neural configuration, store DNA backup archive for later retrieval. Create dynamic record of neural chemical bonds, 2%, 11%, 23%, 47%, 79%, 97%, 100%, store DNA backup archive for later retrieval. Create dynamic record of synaptic activity, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 13, 19, 29, short-term memory cycle discerned at 31 objective seconds, store template as DNA backup archive for later retrieval. Create dynamic record of the wave-form patterns in the fine-fibered dendritic web, 1 minute, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, maximum length of continuous holonomic cycle discerned at 31 subjective minutes before self-actualisation, create DNA backup archive for later retrieval.

Create secondary backups, repeat, repeat, repeat, insulate archives, seal for long-term storage, thread carbon-nanotubes as intracellular reinforcement, enclose archives in bone tissue sheathe, integrate calcium in bone structure with carbide silicates, process complete.

Define custom Yin resonance footprint, record pattern 2%, 23%, 97%, 100% complete. Assign pattern as personal identifier, set pattern as trigger for primary backup retrieval. Set failure of primary backup retrieval as condition for ancillary backup retrieval in case primary backup is corrupted or lost.

And that's about as much effort as I can put into contingencies when things are so time sensitive.

Calculate time differences between physical and heavenly planes. Estimate heavenly time frame until beginning of physical decay – three hundred and fifty-nine subjective years. Estimate heavenly time frame to irreversible spiritual breakdown and loss of continuity of self – three hundred and sixty subjective hours.

That's the bold part of science done.

Now for the courageous part.

I'll be back soon. Wait for me, little ones. Live.

Without another thought, I died.

Which is to say, I abandoned my Yang body completely and climbed my collapsing Yin body upwards, like Jack climbing the beanstalk from down in the human realm all the way back to Heaven.

How like a plant to always be seeking the highest reaches, I thought sardonically as I felt less and less buoyant with each moment. How like a tree.

I made it to the top of the metaphorical abyss with more time to spare than I expected, my wife having buttressed my collapsing spiritual structure and then some. When I finally clawed my way over the metaphorical edge, I didn't even bother climbing to my feet.

I just stretched flat on by back on the make-believe not-ground, a tired soul breathing in the life-giving ether that was responsible for the unlimited energy pool of the ascended dead. And ninja zombies.

I breathed in, and breathed out, and in, and out. I breathed and breathed the spiritual matter, feeling myself heal, relax, and finally begin to rebuild my energy and force of will. Until, finally, after 96 cycles of that spontaneous meditation, I felt a new Yin root begin to sprout from deep inside my soul.

Like everyone else, I, too, still had plenty of untapped potential.

Heaven… it works like a dream.

"You chose death!" Asura shouted, outraged and shocked and sad, all but storming forward to stand over me.

For one, long moment, I seriously considered fucking off.

"Your ego is as large as my brother's!" But his anger dispersed as soon as it came and Asura sunk to his knees at my side, looking dismal. "To be offered the purest self-sacrifice, would you truly choose to spit in the face of those who would carry you on?"

I should be able to keep to myself if I want to, regardless of anyone else's thoughts on the matter. That's why it's Heaven – you can make it whatever you want most. I should be able to think myself to someplace beyond the access of anyone else. Maybe cocoon myself inside a personal bubble of infinity for good measure, to get some peace and quiet. What Minato and Kushina did to talk with Naruto without Kurama there, but better.

That's how reincarnating upwards works, doesn't it? Buddhism, anyway. Some schools of it. People make entire realms to rule over as gods. Up until they deplete all their power and reincarnate downwards again, because they didn't advance themselves. But in the meantime, even the Sage himself couldn't just barge in uninvited, right?

"Why would you do this?" Asura had never been anything but stubborn. "Why choose to die when you could've –"

"I don't want to hear that from someone who let a snot-nosed brat do that to himself."

"That – no, your attempts to provoke me are wasted. You are not one to look down on the selflessness of others, so why?"

Because I couldn't speak for Kawarama and Hashirama's situation, but I could speak for my own situation. And my situation was that I still remember being Irish. I celebrated death, not waste. "It's completely unnecessary, that's why."

Asura opened his mouth, then closed it and looked away, eyes going distant. Then the same eyes went wide and he vanished from my sight altogether. He appeared next to his father again a few moments later, and the look he gave me was completely amazed, which was not something I'd expected all the way up here. I took that to mean my body was, indeed, still alive despite everything.

Good boys.

Asura stared at me, then turned to his brother and opened his mouth to…

But he closed it and turned away again, giving me one last, intense glance before disappearing again.

Indra scoffed and pointedly did not look in his brother's wake or mine as he vanished as well.

The feud continues, does it?

Just how much did these people know? What didn't they know? The Sage and his sons, shouldn't they at least see clearer and deeper than anyone else? They'd earned their way up here, didn't they?

Then again, Heaven was still below the four realms of enlightenment. This Heaven, anyway.

Puzzling out the limits of non-omniscience would make for a great long-term project, if I planned to stay here.

"I apologise for them," the Sage sighed, because he was here too. Still. "Karma and character growth are not consistently entwined."

I still wanted to disappear into my own bubble. For all I knew, this white place was such a world bubble. Maybe my wife's even, though I couldn't imagine she'd countenance behaviour like this if she were the host – ah, there she goes. Well. Since Ume had just fiercely interposed herself between me and the Sage himself, I decided not to bother and just laid there, making the best of my three hundred and sixty hours.

My soul healed. My spirit formed anew, young, undefined and formless. Not strong, nowhere near as strong as I felt even in the worst of my depression, but stout. Resilient. Sated. Ready to grow stalwart, far and wide unto many years hence.

I wasn't mighty right now, but for the first time I felt confident that I could be. One day.

I pushed myself off the ground until I was sitting up. I looked at my family and opened my arms. Yui broke free of her mother and ran at to me again. Ume hung some way back, looking at me with conflict on her face, but she came over too when I held my other arm for her. Soon we were embracing like we had before. "Hope you don't hold my harsh words against me, from earlier." I murmured. "I don't consider myself any less your husband either, despite death doing us part and then some."

Our feelings communicated clearly through spiritual communion. Both of us reaffirmed our commitment. All the while, our daughter basked in it. The only thing missing was my idiot son.

Time to be a proper father again.

I broke the hug. Waited for my daughter to pull back with her mother.

Then I gathered myself, gave my small seed of Yin all the power I'd absorbed this whole time, and bid it to sprout forth straight and strong.

Downwards.

In asymmetrical warfare, the side that wins is the one that reverse-engineer things best.

Instead of wide, I built deep. My new Yin was young, but whole and healthy. Primed to feed and grow on whatever nourishment was offered. And the nourishment I offered was the infinite energy of Heaven, along with every chunk and scrap of my previous spiritual body that was in its path and still hadn't dissolved.

Perhaps in the future I'd be able to grow further – and wider – but it was not this day. Right now I was barely enough to drop a knitted rope from one realm to the next, never mind six of them like the Shinju root over yonder that gave me the idea to begin with.

But barely enough was still enough.

I rode my makeshift rope ladder all the way down to the living world and overlapped my own body again. It was like returning from a lucid dream, just in the nick of time.

Or, at least, that had been the plan.

Just as I was about to reach it, Indra Ootsutsuki appeared in a blur and flash to block my path.

Shit.

"Unlike my brother and my father, I am determined to interrogate you and your philosophies." Indra's presence surrounded mine, vast and ominous. "However, I also value brevity so I am willing to accept it in turn. What is your judgment of my father's actions?"

Indra had enveloped me like my wife had done before, but stopped short of outright communion. Was it hesitation? Courtesy? I couldn't tell if he was buttressing my little rope ladder from Heaven to Earth, or preparing to cut it.

Oh well, I thought fatalistically. It's not like I can do much if he chooses violence. As usual.

Thankfully for my rejuvenated fatalism, I'd long since made my mind about that. "Hagoromo Ootsutsuki wanted us to adopt his world views and change our entire nature to fit his notion of an ideal world. We were never consulted on whether or not we agreed to be spliced with an alien organism. And even if he had succeeded through the Shinju implant to change the fundamentals of human nature – which he didn't – it never would have worked anyway. He came to mankind as a liberator, but treated us like a conqueror. No peace can ever emerge from doublethink, certainly no joy, and utopia is fundamentally impossible anyway."

"What of my brother?"

Not even the slightest time taken to process my words, did he really care what I thought? "He's the quintessential hyperenergetic extrovert, but charisma is never enough on its own either. A lot of people don't want to play to any tune but their own. Also, some people are just plain crazy or evil. A hive mind is horrifying enough, but a hive mind shared with the unfiltered thoughts and urges of monsters is poison."

"On that, at least, we agree," Indra nodded calmly. "What of me, then?"

I hesitated. "If you want an answer to your family feud, it's the same one I'd give your father – do your thing and leave everyone else alone."

"That is not what I asked."

No, it wasn't. "Ninjutsu, ninshu, none of them are the problem. The problem is that morons with too much power keep trying to convince everyone else that unity and self-determination are mutually exclusive. It's false duality nonsense. The solution to your disagreement is that it was never going to be resolved. You should have left Asura and his followers to do their own thing, Asura should have let you and your followers do your own thing, and your father should never have decided that only one of those choices was valid."

"Also true," Indra nodded tolerantly. "But that is not what I asked either."

Shit, all my distractions failed.

Oh well.

Those who are offended by the truth cannot do anything but lie.

I'd yet to hear a single lie.

"You were fine up until you went off trying to impose your individualistic philosophy on others. Instead of embodying the philosophy of self-reliance like you had been before, you adopted the philosophy of hypocrisy and proceeded to dance to Black Zetsu's tune like a little bitch."

Our Ninshu almost fell apart.

"Pffhahahahahah!" Indra laughed. Not madly or menacingly. Heartily. Like someone who'd just heard the most hilarious and validating thing in the world. "Oh, on that we also agree! My thanks for annihilating the wretch. I thought I'd feel cheated for not getting the chance to throw my answer in his face. But then…" The spirit smiled contemptuously. "We both know what he would have said about the hopes and dreams of mortals and mongrels."

Well… good to know he was so self-aware?

"Your earnestness is appreciated. In recompense, allow me to bestow upon you the second great disappointment of your chosen vocation." Indra held up his hand. Glowing filaments of iridescent shades sprouted into sight in his palm, weaving together in the glimmering shape of a tree. "You are not the first to seek insight into the Shinju's nature and essence either."

I stared at the sight, utterly stunned.

Indra didn't withdraw his hand.

I held out mine.

Ninshu conveyed to me the full code of the Shinju's genetics, every bit as alien and counterintuitive as I expected it to be, but completely legible.

"Faith, bejaysus and begorrah!"

"Quite."

It was also every bit as inimical to human biology as I'd theorised, but that was fine. The whole point of cracking the code was so I could change it. He – this – all those theoretical techniques I'd thought up, I… I could –

"You would have figured it out by yourself eventually," Indra idly said while ninshu also delivered to me the full scope of his insight as the one who invented ninjutsu from first principles. "I'm just saving you the tedium. I know you humans in the lower realms still care about such paltry things as the passage of time."

My… everything stalled under the sheer breadth of the knowledge being gifted – so that's how you mess with inertia, finally! – but I still didn't run out of words.

Somehow. "It's not all paltry things."

"Oh, I know." Indra smirked at me as he began to fade. "I'm still burdened with fondness for a few of them myself. Civilization, poetry, creativity."

"Warmth," I said pointedly. "Friendship, family."

"…Faith," he replied just as pointedly. "Legacy. Inherited will."

"Modesty."

"Good humour."

"The pursuit of happiness."

We looked at each other. Ninshu still bound us.

""And leave everyone else the fuck alone even if they make you the fucking king.""

Indra vanished, but not his mirthful laughter from my ears.
 
Chapter 15: The Meditation of Heaven and Earth (II)

Karmic Acumen

Well-known member
(II)

And so it was that the first thing the Anami spirits experienced upon my return to life was euphoria.

Oh Indra, will you one day ascend beyond this world and become my old Earth's Father Sky?

Restart biological function, retrieve cognitive backups, assess archives viability, no corruption detected in primaries, deploy, unpack, initialize.

Align cognitive processes from stored records with wave-form patterns of new Yin body, 2%, 13%, 23%, 43, 73%, 100%, reorganize neural chemical bonds to match backup configuration, adjust synaptic activity to match record, match neural quantum wave-form patterns with backup dynamic record, match new Yin wave-form patterns to cerebral patterns, overlap, entwine, integrate physical self with para-physical elements, mind reintegrated, memory reintegrated, new Yin body successfully rewoven into fine-fibered dendritic web.

Re-initialize Yang generation, match Yang generation to Yin capacity, establish new Yin-Yang cycle, 2%, 13%, 23%, 43, 73%, 100%, body repossession completed successfully.

Assess individual systems and apparatuses, biomass capacity nominal, energy efficiency optimal, energy generation minimal – autotrophic function barely sufficient for continued survival, further biological activity requires blood oxygenation. Assess brain function 13%, 23%, 43%, 73%, 100%, brain function sufficient for consciousness, all partitions present and practicable, general function sufficient for only a further four minutes and three seconds of continuity of consciousness under current environmental conditions.

Return to native environment urgently needed, sourcing additional biomass strongly recommended, explore options, approach identified.

Reassess homeostasis, adjust all systems for enhanced cellular function, create new chakra system based on newly acquired template, progress 3%, 13%, 23%, 43%, 73%, 100% complete, connect chakra pathway system to all individual cells, initialize chakra generation, integrate new chakra pathway system with Yin body, evaluate Yin-Yang cycle, suspend, adjust, re-initialize.

Integrate ninshu functionality into new chakra apparatus, 1%, 3%, 7%, 13%, 23%, 43%, 73%, 100% complete.

Deploy acquired ninshu template – floral.

Wood Release: Underground Roots Technique.

The tree roots far above me responded to my will. The deepest ends grew further down until they stabbed into me. The other ends grew upwards through rocks and soil until they breached the surface, spreading in all directions looking for every creature that had been killed or trapped, by the fight between a certain fool dragon and the very dead hive mind of snakes. Every last forest animal I found, dead or alive, was skewered and drained of all biomass, which was then delivered back to me as quickly as my body could assimilate it, the tissue, nutrients, water, precious oxygenated blood.

Re-assess individual systems and apparatuses, replenish, realign, repair.

I was using the veins of trees as auxiliary blood vessels for the purpose of blood transfusion. As far as improvisation went, this was particularly morbid, but really, it was all in theme. This was ninshu, not ninjutsu.

Though speaking of ninjutsu.

Earth Release: Earth Defense Dome of Magnificent Nothingness

The earth fell away from me, finally giving me space to move, if not breathe because of how thin the air was. I grabbed a few select rocks and roots that I'd excluded from the technique and proceeded to eat them.

Then I cut my palm.

Wood Release: Nativity of a World of Trees

I didn't know what frame of reference Hashirama had that he could just create whatever plants he wanted out of nothing. Maybe senjutsu was enough, perhaps if you communed with a specific type of flora for a long enough period it became embedded in your chakra or essence. I didn't have that experience, but I had options of my own.

A drop of my blood became a seed. The seed became an ash tree. The ash carried me up and out of the darkness towards the shining sun, fresh air and freedom.

My mind was already sprinting far ahead, though, processing physical input, taking in all-new extrasensory input, and running dozens of scenarios at once about what I could or couldn't do when I finally burst free. What I could or couldn't do about what I saw up and ahead of me through the spirit world. The Five-Fold Rashomon, a sealed tomb where the dragon of blood and lightning that my dumbass son had become was roaring and dying alone in the dark.

Orochimaru, I hope hell sucks.

I looked around me, and past the trunk of the ash tree that had grown around me with sight beyond sight. At the big clouds of subtle matter and Yin energy that were dispersing from where my previous spiritual body had died. Just now. Right here. All around me. At a rate that would probably see it completely dispersed into nature in two or three days. Mine. And Ororchimaru's too. And those animals. All of it going to complete waste.

I looked at Kenzo. To and from the still not-quite-dead spirit, and the ocean of discarded Yin all over the place.

Oppor-

"▂▂▃▃▅▅▅▅▅!!"

-tunity my ass!

What was I supposed to do with this? How was I supposed to deal with this? The dragon-shaped bloodstream was thrashing, screaming, every moment and every effort was another part of him irreversibly consumed to keep himself going in his single-minded rampage. Every bit of spiritual death I'd almost undergone myself, what my wife would have put herself through, he was experiencing it at an accelerated rate. Like me, maybe because of me, he'd turned himself into an autotrophic life form, except instead of physical mass he was burning his very spirit away. How…

How could I stop it? Reverse it?

Also, human minds and souls do not do well in reptile brains, never mind floating blobs of gore from a mutant toad pretending to be a flying lizard, what can I do?

You've sacrificed so much for so long, husband, let me have my turn for once.

I looked around at the ocean of lost Yin. Then to my dumbass of a son. And back at my lost Yin. And my new Yin too. My Yin body, formless and fresh. Youthful. Fit for a child, you might say.

Well, I thought glumly, sympathising all too much with my wife's latest decision-making. There's worse ways to go than sacrificing everything for your kid, I guess-

"It seems that even now I come in second."

This time it was Asura that appeared to me in the darkness beneath the earth, seated cross-legged in front of me as my improvised transportation system struggled to catch up to the speed of my thoughts and memories.

"My brother didn't put any undue pressure on you, I hope?"

Sacrificing myself to myself was not the same thing as saving someone else's spirit from their wilful self-destruction, I only had administrative control over myself, not anyone else. It certainly wasn't the same thing as excising a child's soul and spirit from an actively self-destructive pseudo-organism while they were in the middle of spiritual suicide.

"You're really a very rude man, you know?"

Maybe I could yank him out of that mess? But no, my young stringbean of a Yin body was the worst tool for that. Trying to snatch my idiot boy out of the jaws of spiritual death would be like trying to save him from the hangman's noose by yanking on his foot with a second rope. He was spread out and hooked through all of it. Every time a splatter sloughed off, every time a drop of blood was consumed to generate the lightning buoying him, a part of himself was consumed for good.

"Then again, it's not like I've ever been all that good at holding attitude against anyone."

I could see spirits. If I could see spirits, I could see what comprised them. If I could bring myself, a human, back to life, then plucking a screaming child out of a hastily improvised blood blob should be easy, right? You'd think.

"Alas, I remain a sucker for self-sacrifice, always so moving and morally superior to any other sort, at least when it's worthy. This once, though, I feel like being petty." Asura held out his fist. "Which is why I'm going to make your perfectly noble and worthy self-sacrifice as worthless as you made your wife's."

I stared stupidly at the extended fist.

"▂▂▃▃▅▅■■▃▅▅!!"

I held out my own fist and beheld the motions of the world.

Hand seals – they're grasping motions!

The final cataclysmic clash between the Sage's children, its setup was a multitude of causes and reasons, but the ultimate catalyst was betrayal. Specifically, the betrayal of Indra by his own disciples and adherents to Asura. To the point where there were more of them on Asura's side than Indra's own, by the end. By miles. And almost all of them joined in ninshu with Asura at one point or another, directly or not.

Oh dear, this is the real final straw that drove Indra to commit fratricide, isn't it?

Indra was the creator of ninjutsu, but Asura was a literal repository of all the ninjutsu knowledge and experience of everyone else in their time. For all that ninshu was his and the Sage's own preferred choice, Asura's understanding and skill in ninjutsu had actually surpassed his brother's.

"I hope this helps, Masanari-Dono." Asura grinned as he began to fade. "I'm rooting for you, you know! Believe it!"

Holy fuck.



Create biofeedback and at-will control for overall chakra system function, integrate function into homeostasis, create biofeedback and at-will overrides for all individual functions, create new node in pineal gland to centralize control, synchronise chakra flow with Yin-Yang cycle, examine process of Yin-Yang to chakra generation, process discerned.

Indra… did you withhold this insight, or is Asura not the only one who doesn't appreciate what he has?

Hand seals – they were grasping motions. Grasping motions for the causal forces and associative sympathies making up the world, the universe. I could see them. I could perceive them. I could deduce what some of them did just from how they interacted with me. I didn't try, but only because I didn't need to. Chakra was just the medium of interaction, and now I had experience. All of Asura's experience, and everyone else's who shared theirs with him. I knew all of the seals and the strings of existence that had ever been grasped by a human mind during Asura's time. The twelve seals, the non-standard ones, and many others besides. Ever since those olden days… so much of them had been hidden and lost.

I know what I'm going to do.

Even the totality of Asura's collected insight made up just a narrow field of view of the grand scheme of strings making up the tapestry of reality, even all of them combined, but...

I don't need nor want to grasp for all of them, do I?

I just needed a firm hold of the strings on me. My place was mine to decide in the universe, no one and nothing else's. If I managed to do that, maybe I'd be able to do it for someone else too. And even if I didn't, more options would surely reveal themselves to me. They always did before.

I reassessed my conclusion via all my mental partitions in parallel. Then once again with them all working in tandem. The conclusion remained the same.

That's it then.

Assign experimental resources, ready deployment, decelerate cognitive processes to match objective time.

The ash tree burst up through the soil, but I bid it to carry me further up and up. When I broke through the canopy to see the sun, I made the wooden tree even taller still, made it carry me further up and up until I was higher than the tallest boughs in a hundred miles. The top of the trunk, the junction of the mightiest boughs, it split down the middle to free the perfect sphere within, which had been acting as my egg-like shell.

The shell unfolded around me like a flower. The moon was above me. The sun was a distant wonder watching me from the horizon's edge. The sounds in my ears were a rush like none before. The sensations on my skin spoke of all new life and awareness. The air entering my lungs was the first rattling gasp of new life. Elation.

"▂▂▃▃▅▅■■▃▅▅▂▂▃▅!!"

The sight ahead of me was almost entirely taken up by a colossal box made of spiky doors with the faces of demons on them. They rattled but held. They rattled less and less with each blow from inside.

Accelerate cognition back to maximum speed and get to work.

Don't hold this against me too much, world, I'm a really good man you know!

Utilize acquired shinju comprehension and chakra transformation experience to develop inverse chakra loop, 3%, 13%, 23%, 43%, attempt failed. Desired functionality requires fundamental redesign of chakra apparatus, determine necessary modifications, 3%, 13%, 23%, 43%, 73%, 100% complete, simulate mental model, repeat, repeat, repeat, discerned preliminary model.

Destroy present chakra apparatus – again.

Create new chakra apparatus – again.

Integrate into cells, affect physical changes, integrate into Yin, affect spiritual changes, new chakra system deployment complete.

Synchronize internal energy and force and motion differentials with extrinsic influences, streamline para-physical functionality, compensate for environmental stressors, initiate chakra generation, integrate chakra into auric field to upscale reinforcement of natural limits and override the laws of physics as needed.

Integrate ninjutsu functionality into new chakra apparatus, streamline ninjutsu-ninshu chakra mechanics for ease of use, reassess homeostasis, reassess chakra apparatus functionality, inspect genetic template of implanted system, alien genetics reaffirmed as fully legible, evaluate, adjust for human biology, 3%, 13%, 23%, 43%, 73%, 100%.

I took a deep breath.

Deploy inverse chakra transformation process.

Execute.

My new chakra pathway system rooted itself within me. Its profile changed under my direction, though I quickly realized I was playing something closer to the role of a gardener half the time. Before, if you stretched out your arms and plated yourself like a tree, the chakra system, too, would have looked almost like a tree, albeit one with branches bereft of leaves and flowers, never mind a fruit. In reality, it was all just a root system masquerading as the rest of the tree, due to the Sage's modification and the subsequent ages of human make-believe inculcated into alien genetics and mistranslated.

This new one – mine. It was different. It was true.

I'm not going to refer to this by that name ever again.

This was not the Shinju parasite. Not any longer. And I was not going to give this miracle a name that could be mistranslated as double suicide.

Crann Bethadh.

The Tree of Life.

Its roots were six and doubled as branches, each one growing through me and out of me to plant themselves in all six lower realms even as I watched. My body was its trunk. My spirit was the rain. And the upper crown – it didn't exist, but only because the rain was so thin and paltry that it couldn't grow. Not yet. If it grew, as I grew, would it manifest upwards and reach high enough to weave itself into the higher realms as well?

I exhaled. I gave myself an entire objective second to succumb to my feeling of triumph. It was the headiest feeling in the world.

Evaluate outcome.

Tree of Life retains all thaumovore properties of original organism. However, non-parasitic nature of chakra pathway system generates chakra free of incompatibility with human biology and spiritual anatomy.

Anami-Chakra incompatibility resolved, all limits on capacity and utility lifted.

Inverse chakra loop established successfully, chakra transformation into Yin and Yang energies now possible, encode as innate functionality, deploy, streamline, automate.

Addendum – alien genetic code fully readable means that human genome can be combined or substituted as desired. Coupled with inherent modularity of genetic phenotypes, this allows for any and all additional functions to be removed or added, also as desired.

Log implications to memory and postpone, crisis management takes priority over new theories, afford no distractions.

Deploy senriki at cellular level, deploy senjutsu at holistic level, maximise strength, maximise flexibility, maximize endurance, maximize awareness, maximize natural energy intake, metabolize excess, streamline, assess, confirm no negative side effects, automate.

Natural energy supply nominally infinite, divert excess to Yang generation.

Yang production rate maximised, Yang supply nominally infinite while cell-grade senriki persists, cell-grade senriki logs no drawbacks, will persist indefinitely unless wilfully halted, divert excess Yang to chakra apparatus, system confirmed as being capable of creating chakra from any one sort of energy type regardless of mix or imbalance, maximum chakra capacity reached.

My word, already?

Offload excess chakra onto Anami cells, limit reached, current amount and concentration of soul cells vastly insufficient to leverage full raw power, new directive discerned.

Be fruitful and multiply, kids, you lot are the only ones who actually stopped after the one attempt at patricide.

The swarm of living plasma complied eagerly. The Anami multiplied endlessly, spreading through me until there was once more no cell deprived of one, then kept going at an exponential rate, and faster. Trito emerged from my flesh and formed around me, a shimmering ghost-like form that seemed to weave itself out of the world and the sky above. His volume grew quickly, so quickly that it outpaced my new, vastly diminished Ninshu range before he even finished growing his second pair of arms. My Yin… so small and thin now, my range so reduced compared to what it was just this morning.

Trito grew a second head, then a third so I could see in every direction. His spear and shield vanished, but his mantle did not. It grew instead around and through me, out and downwards, following as much as he guided my ever-replenishing chakra through the tree beneath my feet, further still until he reached the earth and spread out through the roots. And further.

As that happened, I called my chakra and raised my hands into the hand seal of the Ox.

Ox, Dog, Horse, Tiger, Boar, Ram-

As I formed seals, so did Trito. But when I moved on, he didn't. The hand seal stayed formed, the chakra stayed moulded, nature's string remained in hand, and every next seal saw a new hand flow out of his previous one to form the next sign in the sequence. Even so I felt the limit rapidly nearing, I needed something… something else. Something to act as a relay for my conscious will even beyond my newborn spirit's tiny range. I need…

I needed more mind. I needed more hands.

"Sage Art Wood Release: Svaraka of Unbounded Hands."

I wasn't even going to try for Hashirama's True Several Thousand Hands, but a good scientist knows when to appreciate inspiration.

The wood release technique erupted around me, countless saplings spliced from the ash tree beneath my feet. First chaotically, then increasingly controlled as the new life absorbed nutrients from the earth and whatever was left of the many creatures that had perished. It seized and absorbed all the discarded Yin around me too. Mine, Orochimaru's, Kenzo's, every tiny scrap from all the creatures that were killed. The Ash trees grew tall and close, so close that they blended together with the original beneath me.

The new life grew thicker and taller, lifted me higher and higher as Trito fused with it, causing the tree to perfectly outpitcture his image. A head grew from the wood, then, two, three. One arm, two, four. The trunk beneath me thickened and widened, flowing like liquid clay until it took the shape of a robe beneath me, wrapped around legs sat in my same, cross-legged pose.

Ox, Dog, Horse, Tiger, Boar, Ram, Hare, Monkey, Dragon, Rat, Bird, Snake. And all the other seals that Asura and Indra had conveyed to me. And all the seals I'd ever seen on a different Earth. And all the ones I could imagine after that.

Four arms became eight, then 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, one after another forming around and behind me in an ever expanding wheel. Then three, then eight wheels of steadily grander hands. Each numbered 640 fingers and 128 hands. Every hand was positioned in a unique sign. One handseal, each different from all the rest. Each hand held one of nature's strings. Not all of nature's strings, not even close, but certainly all of mine.

Identify hand seals associated with fine world string manipulation, repeat whole test sequence with incrementally altered parameters, loop procedure with new variables each time, compile at maximum cognitive capacity in parallel on all thought partitions.

Cycle through spiritual states, observe the effects of – and by – reality's strings upon self, observe effect of reality's strings upon reality, repeat for inverse chakra transformation process, determine associated chakra nature admixture and mould pattern for each string, extrapolate for cause and effect, 3%, 13%, 23%, 43%, 73%, 100%, adjust all personal parameters.

Homeostasis of Self synchronized with homeostasis of World Sphere.

Wholesomeness of Self is both condition and function of Wholesomeness of the World.

Is – is this is what Hasirama felt all the time?

This feat – such effort, from my body, my mind, my soul, even with the Anami doing most of the work, arrayed along the Tree of Life and its grand fundament, my spirit – even buttressed and bulwarked by a colossal avatar grown from divine wood, it shakes. My body shivers. My breath… It trembles. Magnum opus, accomplishment, rapture, this is it, my one, great labour.

All this just to test out a technique. One theoretical technique. One theoretical technique that was itself just a rush job based on another theoretical technique I'd set aside two months ago as a pipe dream.

Indra, Asura, do either of you truly understand what you've given me?

The moment loomed before me as I realized that I had just secured what I needed to sidestep all the drawbacks that my wife would have taken onto herself. Here, now, with all this power. Chakra, sage power, the children of my spirit embodied in plasma souls and bodies, that very same spirit that was in my hands, spiritual matter that had been ripped out of literal human sacrifice, from me, from Orochimaru, from my son himself with every moment that went by…

I could take it, consume it, absorb it back into myself. Achieve… at least some of what grafting my wife's entire Yin to mine would have given me, with all of Heaven's light backing it. Reach for those heights I never fathomed, might still not be able to fathom even now, in the midst of all this. I might even achieve an all new baseline of power, instead of using it all up on this one, single act.

All I had to do was sit here. Meditate. Maintain this one technique to digest the Yin scraps and do nothing else for the next year.

All I had to do was let my idiot son lose everything left of himself and reincarnate as a hedge slug. Possibly, anyway. Maybe a reptile, if this last stunt imprints on his soul deeply enough. If he's lucky. A creeping animal for sure.

I'm fine with being just another failed experiment.

"Yin-Yang Release: Supreme Authority of Manu."

I moved my hands along the outlines of my claim upon my place in the world. Trito's moved with me, tugging on nature's strings back and forth and wide. The wind howled amidst the colossal arms as they moved. The 1024 strings came together, scraped against each other, bent, locked, twined, interlocked into a shape that perfectly mirrored mine. All the control I could ever exert over cause and effect, no matter the method or moment, was folded and woven into me. Tethered through me. Imbued me. All the power exerted upon me by reality reformed in my image. Right in the place I stood.

Charged particle manipulation discerned.

That… could be anything from a gimmick to bloody world-upending levels of amazing, but still not what I needed right now.

My spirit – so small, it couldn't possibly anchor this working, if I were a loom it could barely qualify as a single weft thread at best, never mind the warp that would need to be folded on itself over a thousand times. I had an overabundance of Yang to render an anchoring structure permanent, but I didn't have nearly enough Yin to fathom the structure to begin with.

I don't need to pull on nature's strings, just mine.

I didn't have nearly enough Yin to anchor such a working, but I did have an all new chakra pathway system I could manipulate as easily as the rest of me, now.

Transcending personal limits is what chakra is for.

The Tree of Life grew new filaments, wove itself through all my other strings, anchored the working, permeated it, spread tendrils to twine with each and every thread of the world in my hands. The branches grew past them and looped back through me like the clearest and finest warp thread. I wove them all together in my image until I had twined and knotted everything nice and tight through my entire form.

Re-examine all findings.

Collate.

Compile.

1%, 2%, 3%, 5%, 7%, 11%, 13%, 17%, 19%, 23%, 29%, 31%, 37%, 41%, 43%, 47%, 53%, 59%, 61%, 67%, 71%, 73%, 79%, 83%, 89%, 97%, 100%.

Manipulation of foreign wave-form patterns tentatively discerned.

Sacrifice. Choice. Might worldly. Might otherworldly.

With this power, I could achieve a miracle.

Or…

A smaller miracle that keeps on giving.

Mould chakra according to shape transformation principles, long-form filament, millimetre thick wedge, monoatomic edge.

I clawed my finger down.

The Rashomon gate right in front of me was sliced clean in half.

Metabolize collected subtle matter, distil spiritual energy, concentrate supply, prepare for Yin bestowal.

Decelerate cognitive processing rate to match objective time.

"▂▂▃▃▅▅■■▃▅▅!!"The gore dragon roared in mad frenzy as it burst out of its broken prison. Huge chunks and splatters of blood and lightning tore off its form as it literally flayed its way out. Out of the collapsing structure that was taking its sweet time returning to Naraka whence it came.

Prime delivery vector.

"▂▂▃▃▅▅■■▃▅▅▂▂▃▅▅▅■■ーー!!"The dragon roared madly, desperately. "Y̴̷̴o̶̴̶u̴̸̵ ̷̴̷t̶̷̸h̸̸̵i̴̵̴n̵̵̵k̵̶̶ ̴̶̷t̷̶̶h̴̴̴i̴̴̷s̴̸̴ ̵̶̴w̸̶̸i̵̴̵l̴̷̸l̶̴̶ ̵̴̷h̸̸̵o̷̸̵l̸̴̴d̴̴̶ ̸̴̴m̵̸̵e̵̴̸,̶̴̷ ̶̵̵y̶̷̷o̴̴̴u̴̸̴ ̷̷̷w̵̵̸r̶̴̶e̵̷̶t̴̴̷c̶̵̷h̷̸̴!̴̷̴ ̷̶̴ I̶̵̴ ̸̵̴a̶̴̷m̶̴̵ ̴̶̵V̵̸̸a̶̸̸l̶̶̸i̶̸̸,̶̸̸ ̵̶̶t̴̶̸h̴̷̴e̸̵̵ ̷̸̸A̷̷̸v̷̶̸e̸̸̵n̸̶̶g̸̶̴e̸̶̷r̷̴̶!" Oh no, he's already delusional. "̷I̸ ̷a̴m̴ ̶b̴e̷g̶o̸t̷t̵e̵n̴ ̴o̵f̸ ̵t̵h̸e̶ ̵o̶n̴e̴ ̸w̵h̶o̸ ̷w̷a̸s̵ ̸t̷h̴e̵r̷e̴ ̴t̴o̷ ̶w̸i̶t̷n̵e̶s̸s̸ ̷t̶h̸e̴ ̶v̴e̸r̶y̵ ̸o̴r̴i̷g̴i̸n̷ ̷o̴f̴ ̴a̶l̶l̶ ̸t̵h̵i̴n̶g̶s̶ ̴i̵n̷ ̵t̶h̵i̴s̴ ̶w̷o̶r̷l̶d̷!̷ ̶I̴ ̷a̵m̶-̸"̸

"GROUNDED!"

"▅■▃▅▂▅ ?!"

The dragon's words went down the wrong blood splatter.

Catch him, little ones, don't let your big brother lose another drop!

Yemo's arms left their wooden coils and reached past me like a thousand glowing whirls of blue light to seize the dragon by the snout. And every other part of him too, until there was not a millimeter of surface still exposed to the outside. This dragon, so much smaller than it was just ten minutes ago, it had no chance to even attempt escape.

"▂▂▃▃ ▅▅■■▃▅ ▅▂▂▃ ▅▅ ▅■■ーー!!

Subject brain structure absent, neural network absent, consciousness detected, will detected, scan holonomic structure, analyse, use Yin chakra transformation to buttress collapsing Yin structure, graft Yin matter from sacrifice to replace the gaps and decay, infuse distilled Yin to match the native wave-form patterns, repair, restore, heal, heal, heal, heal, heal, there's enough to heal, I know there's enough, there must be enough, heal, heal, heal, please, please my boy-

"Guh-DAD?!"

Thank you, thank you, thank you! "Kenzo… My dear boy…"

The dragon stalled. Its thrashing stopped. The dying spirit resurged brilliantly. "… D-dad?"

I took a deep breath. Finally, I could drop everything else and give voice to my tried and true feelings. I had all my emotional range back. I could do it! Just don't cry! "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!"

"Wha-!" The gore dragon flinched like a pulped mess of blood and suffering in my spirits' grasp. "DAD! YOU'RE ALIVE!"

Oh god, his voice, it sounded like an eel sludge waterfall! "Don't you 'you're alive' me, you brat, get back to the Pure World this instant!"

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN GO BACK, I WAS NEVER THERE!"

"Unbelievable, this is all it amounts to, my life, this is all I could buy with six years of suicidal depression, all for being unable to stand the mere presence of children like some freak sociopath, my own son!"

"I'M SO GLAD YOU'RE OKAY!"

"Oh for – dammit, boy! You don't have time for this. You're eating through that biomass like a swarm of piranha termites! Go to your mother before you soulmelt your way into a new life as a snail!"

"WHAT?"

"Oh for - no, NO, I am not doing this! I am not going to have my brand new hope for the future crushed in its first five minutes of life by the power of youth's stupidity! Not a single one of my children has gone through life without doing their active best to make me want to kill myself, I am not allowing a single second more of it, do you hear me boy? Where did I go wrong? How did I ever father such morons, Good God!"

"DAD, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?"

"No, no, no, I'm not doing this, I refuse to entertain a single moment more of this nonsense, son, you're grounded!" Plasma fingers phased through matter, grabbed the spirit so very entangled with the monstrosity, and plucked Kenzo's unrestful ghost out by the scruff.

I gave my idiot son just enough time to see my glare. Then I promptly dragged his once more human shape into the otherworld, hauled him up to the top of my shiny spirit rope ladder, and tossed him into his mother's arms.

"I'll deal with you later!"

Just as soon as I'm not in danger of collapsing and crying myself to sleep in a deluge of fat, sobbing tears the moment I'm removed from my multi-threaded brain and its ongoing struggle to put off my emotional breakdown.

I returned – again – to my body with a quake of relief. Finally, the last of my dumbass children was properly dead.

This, this line, this absurdity here that I just thought completely unironically, this is my life.

Ugh.

Man, I'm tired.

Also, having all my mental partitions completely overflowing with emotional upheaval was… an experience. I barely managed to wrench one of them back under control. Not the one chanting 'fuck' two times per second, but the one next to it.

Before me now was left a falling smattering of loose bloodshed. Rapidly dispersing plasma of both kinds was falling and spreading. Wisps and fragments of chakra escaped to join the leftover traces within Trito's frame. There were golden flakes of Yang energy that could only have come from Kurama too, flickering in and out of view less and less with each moment.

Ionized plasma was shedding off a presence I'd thought was gone but wasn't. He'd just been hidden behind my boy's loud glare.

Yemo! You're alive!

I grabbed him and nourished him as gently as I could. He was shocked, then disturbed. So disturbed that he lurched free of his sibling's grasp in favour of pressing against me. Without entering me.

Deploy ninshu.

He didn't even entertain the notion of merging back with his many siblings despite them literally cradling him. He felt shocked, then relieved, then he wanted to never leave me again even as he didn't want to return to how things were before. At the same time, he was conflicted about his 'replacement' and felt at once driven and guilty at his own weariness and hesitance to be reduced to such a state again. I felt them, his wants.

I felt wants.

Yemo was changed. He was more than he used to be. I wasn't ready to pronounce sapience after the day I'd had, but I'd just gotten evidence that I'd overlooked sentience all this time. And there was sentience here, and more, now. Complexity. More than plants. More than animals. More than Gama.

Kurama's Yang energy, it has to be.

I flexed my chakra, finding it already at capacity again. I felt the last traces of distilled Yin. I considered Trito. For a long moment, I considered the dripping blood.

… It's still not mad science.

Recall all logged animal genomes, read collected blood to refresh amphibian genetic footprint, read biomass collected from recently slaughtered wildlife for additional blueprints, bring up physical phenotypes, retrieve cognitive phenotypes from own genetic code, combine, mix, match, simulate permutations, continue until ideal outcome is reached.

Final configuration discerned – body of a snake, belly of a clam, skull of an ox, antlers of a stag, snout of a boar, eyes of a rabbit, ears of a wolf, crest of a rooster, scales of a fish, whiskers of a rat, beard of a goat, legs of a horse, hands and feet of the ape, the claws and teeth of a tiger.

I'm not even surprised anymore.

Integrate sensory phenotypes into optimal configuration, configure external phenotypes for optimal aesthetics, confect base genetic blueprint of theoretical organism, integrate Tree of Life sapling in final structural model, simulate, repeat, repeat, repeat, results nominal.

"Wood release…. Artificial Womb Technique?"

I was iffy on the name, but the technique did what I wanted, more or less.

"Yin Release: Trito's Tribulation."

I'll probably name this application something else, because there was nothing to purge this time. But the vector of the ability was the same. My blood erupted through a hundred different enlarged pores and pierced into the wooden egg.

Determine necessary materials, extrapolate substance quantities, transfer collected biomass and energy from trees and statue, use Underground Roots technique to collect more raw minerals, donate missing elements and nutrients from own biomass, repeat for blood and gut flora, collect all elements in incubation shell, overlap Yin – no, still not enough of it – overlap Trito over container to enable precise molecular and cellular manipulation.

Create neural system, create skeleto-muscular apparatus, create digestive system, create reproductive system, create minor subsystems, create skin, create scales, integrate systems, test, assess, refine, repeat until homeostasis is achieved…

Process complete.

Create Tree of Life off-shoot sapling.

1%, 3%, 13%, 23%, 43%, 73%, 100%.

Process complete.

Initialize.

Attempt failed, Tree of Life doesn't have enough to work with, the Yin is not self-sustaining, something is missing.

Like every other time before.

I considered the issue. Then I turned my eyes to the spirit world and held Yemo up to get a moment's glimpse and breathe the ether of Heaven.

The heart began to beat. The yang began to flow. The Yin began to grow, slowly but surely.

Initialize Tree of Life.

Success.

I returned to the waking world. I withdrew my blood. I healed. The wooden egg cracked from within to reveal the new being inside.

The baby dragon jumped at me, curled around my waist, crawled frantically up around my back and chest, all the way up until his neck was wrapped around mine, and all four of his limbs hugged me tight, never intending to let go. He was long and sinuous, whiskered, his scales white with shimmers of iridescent blue. Like a cloud in the sky.

I felt his amazement. I felt his overwhelmed feelings at having his own physical senses. I felt his wonder at the world. I felt him initiate resonance between his soul cells and his still tiny siblings within me.

"Welcome to life, Yemo."

My dragon croaked cutely.

I felt the last of the vast power finally escape my grasp. But even as I returned to a state of being… vaguely comparable to the me of yesterday morning, I could only feel triumph all over again.

I'd arrogantly projected sentience on non-living plasma structures before. Not anymore.

Now I've created life.

"Quite the chain of feats you've achieved today," Indra said from where he now stood to my right on the not-flower petal. He was transparent, but visible against the backdrop of living plasma that Trito provided just by existing in the same space. The spirit was speaking in that ancient language that Archaic Nifon only wished it still was.

I could only understand him thanks to ninshu, the one of earlier and the one of now.

"In fact," he continued. "It's enough that I can't believe even you could come up with all of this from scratch. Not on such short notice, never mind while dead."

"Imbas Forosnai."

Indra blinked at me. He ignored the approaching ninja that had finally caught up with this upended battlefield. "I know not what that means."

"Imbas Forosnai. In the ancient language of a people you'll never meet, because they're several centuries dead on a different planet, it means 'Great Knowledge that Illuminates'." The old ways are never as gone as moral busybodies like to think. "Man chews on meat soaked in mind-expanding solution, puts it on a flagstone near the door, chants an invocation over it to the gods, chants over his two palms – smeared from the meat, very important – then he locks himself inside a dark room not to be disturbed, puts his two palms on his cheeks – over his eyes if he can manage it – and sleeps." I smirked. "I didn't get anywhere close to the standard three days of complete isolation, but it sure felt longer."

The Art of Illumination of the ancient seers of Éire, Ninshu was practically its inversion. Instead of sensory deprivation, it was overexposure. Where Imbas Forosnai – shamanism – was all about getting possessed by ancestors and gods, ninshu treated the chakra system itself as a possessing entity. Leveraged its Yin incorporation and assimilation abilities for mutual cross-possession. Partial possession of humans by each other. The core was ultimately the same for both, deliberate and willing possession by a foreign entity for the purpose of gaining knowledge.

Even if I hadn't channelled the closest thing to two gods that this world had, possessing myself has to count after all this trouble, right?

Traditions are answers to questions that have been forgotten.

Once upon a time and place, being the channel between man's world and the other worlds, speaking to the gods on behalf of mankind, was the fili of Ireland's most important job. I wasn't a file, and not just because I wasn't a poet, I –

Actually no, never mind. I could definitely become a file. All I needed was to recreate Teinm laída and Díchetal do chennaib. From first principles – again – but what else is new?

"Expanded consciousness, solitary contemplation, sensory deprivation," Indra mused just as Hiashi and company at last came into view. "You can do the former at will, and for the latter you were literally buried a mile underground the whole time."

Hey wait a minute, we're about to have company and I'm naked! Wood Release-

Charged particle manipulation discerned.

I blinked. I sat up at the memory. I considered my senses. I considered my expanded senses thanks to modified phenotypes, the anami spirits, chakra manipulation, and sage power. I considered Trito. I continued considering him, and myself, and the strings of nature. My claim on nature.

I climbed to my feet. Watched the looming form made up of my swarm of dual-shell plasma beings. I thought about my multitasking ability, their multitasking ability, subatomic micromanagement, and particle physics.

Collect materials, combine, transmute.

Dirt, dust and fiber flew towards me from all directions, wrapped my body in a thick layer, and transmuted in a wave of whistling lightning into a perfect recreation of my formal attire.

Well I'll be.

"The world should have loved for you to live during our time," Asura said where he'd appeared to my left. "But I'll settle for seeing Black Zetsu's twisted idea of a world utterly destroyed."

Now I had two ancient religious figures standing at my sides at the top of the world, bright, shimmering and visible against the backdrop of my living aura and the sky.

What is this, the Transfiguration?

That was when the ninja finally cleared the last stretch to land in front of us.

Oh look, witnesses.

Hyuuga Hiashi. Aburame Shibi. An unknown ninja from the Inuzuka clan. And Might Guy.

Konoha. I'm getting seriously mixed feelings here.

Maito Gai gave me a massive shiny-toothed thumbs up, then he joined the others in staring. They stared at me. They stared at Yemo doing his best impression of a neck ornament. They stared at Indra. They stared at Asura. They gawked at the massive statue with one thousand and twenty-four arms that I no longer had a quick and easy way to get rid of. They looked between it and me. Their eyes were the eyes of people who were looking at me while seeing someone else.

I looked up and behind me, at the three intense faces and looming wooden arms of the statue in whose lap we now stood.

Fact: Kaguya didn't need practice or training after she ate the chakra fruit, she just knew.

Whatever brand of moron the current Ootsutsuki may or may not be, whoever created the Shinju itself was a certifiable genius. He literally tested to see how cause and effect interacted with chakra, and then programmed the Shinju so that it associated each chakra pattern a specific sign. The inventor acknowledged that he had a limited perspective too. He programed the Shinju itself with the ability to identify new causes and effects induced by its host organisms, and assign them new hand gestures too.

Grafting miniature root off-shoots onto native life forms may or may not have been part of the original genetic template, but the Shinju's maker had at the least predicted it. It was part and parcel of the biomass and energy harvesting functionality, now. The Shinju was literally designed to infest native life forms and learn all they knew, before eating them. Just as I had theorised before, it wasn't just a chakra fruit assembly line, it was also a self-updating knowledge base and technique repository.

Note to self - hardocde the Crann Bethadh to human biology and encrypt the hell out of it as soon as I have time.

I wondered about all the Ootsutsuki I'd seen on screen. All of them were obsessed with special organs and raw power, no exception. Also, all the ones I knew could charitably be termed one trick ponies. How did they all end up like that, when they have this?

No, that's not really a question, is it? The answer is obvious.

They went all in on ease of use at some point, and never really stopped. With every new generation, they turned themselves more and more fully into almighty idiots.

… Best to double-check that it's not something in their genetics making them that way, though, just in case.

But first.

Evaluate chakra cycle, Yin/Yang-to-chakra process optimal, intake of both energy types ideal for chakra generation but not strictly necessary. However, chakra-to-Yin/Yang inverse process has vastly suboptimal efficiency, precise percentages impossible due to abstract nature of Yin-related factors, future refinement possible but unlikely to achieve paradigm-shifting breakthroughs.

Techniques dedicated to this purpose possible but will likely depend on time allocation and exclusion of all other activities (meditation?). May potentially be supplemented by intake of Yin/Yang from external sources (assimilation?). Multi-threaded cognitive partitioning may overcome some of these limitations.

However, current process still represents a net gain on top of the total maximum Yin and Yang energies once homeostasis is achieved.

Simplified explanation: Yin and Yang regeneration is faster than their transformation into chakra when all are at capacity. Thus, new Yin and Yang made back from chakra will be a permanent net gain.

Conclusion: new chakra pathway system induces a continuous and permanent increase to maximum parameters while not otherwise in use. All parameters will increase naturally for entirety of remaining lifespan. Extrapolation: thanks to overcoming the telomerase bottleneck months ago, remaining lifespan in absence of suicide or murder will continue indefinitely.

I'm going to be this world's daddy.

"Lord Uzumaki."

I looked from the statue to Hiashi and began pulling Trito back into my body while waiting for him to continue.

When he didn't, I decided I may as well say something instead. "I'm going to want ownership of this whole thing, I hope you understand." No mental partitions available at this time to divert emotional spillover. "Tourist traps are all well and good, but I'm not a fan of cheating the original creator out of his own accomplishment, if you get my drift."

I might, potentially, be running on something of a high at the present moment.

"What the fuck," said the Inuzuka, looking between me and Hiashi in disbelief. From reading his chakra and aura, he was clearly a medic. "No, really, what the actual fuck, Captain?"

"Succumb not to the vagaries of unyouthfulness, Inuzuka-san!" Gai erupted. "Clearly, we are looking upon a field of victory! Do not interrupt an ally when he is basking in the fruits of his conquest! It is conquest, sir, yes?"

"Excellent redirection," I nodded to the man now keeping me locked in his sights. "It was more along the lines of cruel and unusual self-defense with extreme prejudice, though."

I suddenly had the nagging feeling that I was forgetting something – oh! I forgot to loot the body!

Orochimaru had a whole bunch of stuff on him, didn't he?

I finally had a second thought stream available. My underground roots technique had remained viable even in my distraction, senjutsu was useful like that. I set about guiding it to locate the Orochimaru corpse pile deep beneath the ground and gather the proceeds.

"Masanari," Hiashi finally found his voice again. What and how much had he seen ahead, with his eyes? "What happened here?"

What could possibly have happened in a world where grownups believe children are ready to visit charnel fields and kill when they are three years old?

This was why I was always willing to put myself out there and damn the consequences, however painful or lethal. It wasn't bravery, it was inevitability. In a world like this, you couldn't hide or coast. Neither could you, as a completely random example, afford to hold a body-snatching experiment in anything but the most controlled of conditions, never mind a mile underground buried in loam and worms, no matter how seductive the prize.

I opened my eyes, ready to deliver the report I'd just compiled between eyeblinks, but then my roots found Orochimaru's leftovers.

My research!

My notebooks! From home! Orochimaru had my research notes in his travel bag!

I should've made your death hurt more, you bastard.

Also, he had a scroll pouch. With one thick scroll inside. Which the Third Eye of the Anchorite, with and without sage power, told me was riddled with trace chakra imprints, none older than four hours, from sixteen different people.

Bring that over here right now.

The root burst up through the soil ahead of the statue and curled through the air to deposit the scroll in my waiting hand. Sage senses gave me no warning, overlaying the object with my plasma body returned no warning, doing the same with my Yin gave no warning, neither did my chakra, Trito, or any individual anami themselves.

I unfurled the scroll.

Seal release.

A puff of smoke dropped two sharingan eyes into my hand.

Shit, how long was Orochimaru in the Uchiha district before Obito did his second attack? How many Uchiha did he kill for their eyes?

Obito and Orchimaru were allies at this point in time, they were both in Akatsuki, even if Orochimaru was playing double-agent as usual. How many layers did their plans have, how many contingencies? Was Orochimaru picking off the Uchiha not at the party the entire time? But I would have felt him, wouldn't I? Third Eye of the Anchorite would have detected something.

Or maybe not, if he used senjutsu.

Orochimaru had failed to achieve senjutsu, but he also hadn't died. It wasn't inconceivable he could at least tap into nature enough to hide himself in it. It would literally be a prerequisite of his cursed seal research. Failing that, Obito might have simply supplied him a white Zetsu clone for his own substitute ninjutsu.

But then, how didn't I feel the victims die?

Unless the deaths happened elsewhere. Maybe they were lured away. Or picked off from the people not in the district. Like… the people mingling with the rest of the village according to my own recommendations.

And the police force.

How many people do I know, whose eyes are in this scroll?

Morbidly, I unsealed and resealed all of the eye pairs one after another, absently absorbing a few cell samples from each. Good news, none of them were from people I knew. Better news, the Sharingan genetics were now fully legible. Bad news, one of the eye pairs shared half of their genetic code with someone I did know. Worst news of the day, that someone was Uchiha Shisui.

I looked at the two bloody eyes in my hand.

Orochimaru killed Shisui's mother.

I'm going to master the ability of astral projection just so I can travel to Hell and kill Orochimaru all over again.

"Lord Hyuuga." I said.

"… At this point, you may call me by name."

"Hiashi then. You may do the same in kind." I held out a fist. "If you have any control at all over your Yin, please be completely open with me for a moment."

Hiashi looked at my extended fist like it was a snake out to bite him, but he nonetheless took a fortifying breath and complied.

Ninshu – didn't work despite his best efforts.

Whatever else he was, he was a quintessential shinobi. Whatever else ninshu was, the technique needed cooperation from both directions. The Yamanaka were the only ones who applied its principles into a form of attack, whether or not they knew it. I could improvise something like that, I already had for what I did with Kenzo, and I was pretty sure Hiashi would forgive me.

Nevertheless, I withdrew my fist.

I considered the potentially world-shattering repercussions of the fallback plan I'd only just come up with.

Then I held out my fist to my second option and set Konoha up for potentially world-shattering consequences down the line.

For Science.

"MY WORD!"

Might Guy did, indeed, possess the proper mindset for ninshu.

"I SEE! I HEAR! I UNDERSTAND!"

"Maito-san can now tell you all you want to know," I told Hiashi, somehow keeping a completely straight face despite everything. "Feel free to take your time with whatever secondary mission objectives you have, now that the danger is over. Now if you'll excuse me-"

"Masanari, wait – Hanzo, HANZO!"

I didn't wait.

I jumped.

I didn't fall.

Gravity and static electricity are the same force at the planck scale.

Children may need an entire character arc, stretched over years of personal drama, love drama, and just drama in general to get around to doing what they set out to do.

Adults get their shit done and go home.


Chapter 16 is available on on Patreon (karmicacumen), Ko-fi (karmicacumen) and Subscribestar (karmic-acumen), along with the advance chapters on The Unified Theorem, Reset the Universe, and Master of Wood, Water and Hill (yes, really).
 
Chapter 16: The Observances of Leaping Shadows New

Karmic Acumen

Well-known member
Nara-Shikaku.jpg

"-. July 23, 6 ANB .-"

"-. 10:34 PM .-"

"-. Shikaku Nara, Jonin Commander of Konohagakure, Interim Commander-in-Chief .-"


The chamber of the Konoha Barrier Team was not the best place for a debrief, especially when even Top Secret didn't feel confidential enough.

But it was the chamber where you wanted to be if you needed to get the best response time to any assault, especially when you found yourself suddenly leading the country's armed forces because the hokage was missing in action. Moreover, it was the room with the greatest concentration of sensory abilities even before the gathering of every senior jonin and clan head in Konoha. Finally, and most importantly, it was the room with the brightest walls in the building that wouldn't also fold at the first hit. Even if certain rogue Uchiha nin with untenable space-time powers could pop just an eye or ear into existence to spy on them – which, thankfully, there was no evidence for – it would not go unnoticed here.

He'd still ordered half of the ANBU to look outward, though, constantly scanning the walls, ceiling, and empty space between them. Just in case.

Shikaku listened to the last situation report and waited for the casualties and damages to be written down by their record nin. Then he signalled Mouse to raise the one-way privacy barrier. "I will now summarise the events that led to our current situation, as they are best understood presently."

The ninja sat up at attention, even those that had been adding their own efforts to surveying the premises.

"The present FUBAR appears to be the result of three operations that unfolded nominally at the same time, but with little to no prior knowledge of each other. The first, and the only one that was not clandestine, was 'Operation Fortitude,' which was enacted by the Hokage and the Special Tactics and Assassination Squad. This is also the only operation of the three that seems to have actually been fully successful. Its purpose: neutralizing Shimura Danzo and the ROOT organisation. The former lord Shimura was previously found guilty, in a closed-door trial, of gross insubordination, dissension, sedition, insurrection, and treason against the previous Hokage, Konoha, and the Land of Fire itself."

There was no little rustling at that, which Shikaku observed stoically. He could have told them that the sentencing in question was dated November 2 six years ago, practically the same day that knowledge of the Uzumaki child's jinchuuriki status leaked to the public. He could also have told them that the main impetus cited in the verdict was the complete disaster in the Land of Rain with Hanzo – the other one – and Akatsuki the year prior.

Six years were a long time to allow and pay a convicted traitor to continue thumbing his nose at your authority, never mind at the village's expense. For anyone who knew the Third, it would not be entirely unreasonable to assume he, in his sentimentality, might have left the date blank as an excuse to put off filing the paperwork indefinitely, as verdicts could technically qualify as not ratified until that point. At the Hokage's discretion.

But Shikaku had only just found out about these things from the sealed Hokage records. As he lacked all the context, he was more than willing to defer on tarring the Third's image. Until told otherwise, he was going to assume the verdict was much more recent and was only given the date in question sometime in the past few days. The Third was known to indulge in irony once in a while too.

"The second operation was an infiltration of Konoha by a heretofore assumed dead Uchiha missing nin, as well as Orochimaru of the Sannin and an unknown third individual, now deceased. This group has tentatively been identified as Akatsuki, but may not necessarily be that group, nor acting on its behalf or that of the Land of Rain. Best as we can figure, the group's aim was mainly information gathering, with likely designs to eradicate the Uchiha clan – if not today then at a later date – and kidnap a nominally civilian target in Masanari Hanzo. The essentials are summarised in the debriefs in front of each of you."

That was no small thing either. It wasn't every day that a civilian citizen garnered the same level of importance as one of Konoha's three royal clans. Formerly, at least. Maybe.

Shikaku carefully didn't let his eyes linger on Uchiha Itachi. The boy was one of only two people present not a jonin, but as the new head of his clan he was entitled to a place there. "Based on Orochimaru's involvement, Shimura Danzo and the rogue Uchiha may or may not have been allies of convenience in this plot, which brings me to the third operation, which we have tentatively pieced together based on investigation and deduction. This third operation was a plan by ROOT to massacre the Uchiha outright – and collect all awakened sharingan thereof – while framing it on the aforementioned Akatsuki organisation. Abducting the other clan heirs present at the party also may or may not have been a secondary goal. Based on their Cursed Tongue Eradication seals, two of the now deceased Uchiha at today's celebration were ROOT as well. This was, in fact, known to the village leadership beforehand as ROOT standard counter-espionage. We now believe their true goal was to facilitate the kidnappings, and likely expose the Uchiha rogue and/or his accomplice at the same time, to make the framing stick. This would have had the side benefit of raising ROOT's own credibility."

"That's insane," said Inuzuka Tsume. "ROOT aren't dogs, they're snakes and rats. They'd never do this out in the open, hell, they'd never do this if there was the slightest chance a stray ray of sunlight would stink up their tracks."

"I have to agree," grunted Hodo Ise. "They disgust me as much as the next person, but they only got a pass for so long because they were competent."

Shikaku nodded. "We believe a night-time clandestine operation was the original design, but the rogue Uchiha proved impossible to control or predict, which forced Danzo's hand. The current working assumption is that Danzo hoped either the rogue Uchiha or Orochimaru would keep our forces busy enough to compensate. Either way, he was willing to settle for a partial success in his prime objective."

"The Sharingan," young Itachi said in a deathly tone. "As many as he could get his hands on."

On top of the ones already in his head and that arm of his. Which probably contributed to his judgment calls, if you could even call them that. Implanting eyes into your arm was insane to begin with, but Hashirama cells and who knows what else? There was no way that was done without insane quantities of literally brain-scrambling drugs. But Shikaku was still keeping that need-to-know.

He allowed the gathered shinobi to process their reactions to the scale of the treason, even as he leaned into the feeling of relief that he could be confident in his assessment of Danzo at all. As small as the tongue seal was in its final form, its functionality was extremely complex, and so the script in its pre-cast form was commensurately extensive. Too extensive to recall and replicate without reference material. Whatever else he was, Shimura Danzo didn't have perfect memory. Thankfully.

"The chain of events, as best as we could piece them together, are these: First off, the enemy group infiltrated the village, in order to gather information on what set back their pre-existing plan to massacre the Uchiha Clan and collect their sharingan eyes for their own purposes. ROOT assisted them in the infiltration – with or without Orochimaru playing go-between as a double agent – while in reality Danzo was planning to conduct his own massacre tonight, with a secondary goal of abducting the other clan heirs at the party, either for leverage or indoctrination. While this was happening, the Third and the ANBU were moving in position to storm the main ROOT compound. OPSEC success on all sides means that none of them knew of the true plans and activities of the others."

Danzo, as galling as it was to admit, was the only one who actually knew what one of the others was planning. He didn't know to plan around the Third though.

"Masanari Hanzo, through classified means unique to him, became wise to the infiltrators, while at the same time Hyuuga Hiashi did the same through deductive reasoning. The ensuing counter-action by Lords Hiashi, Fugaku and Hanzo was only partially successful. The unknown member was killed despite his byakugan-proof concealment and wood release capabilities, but the rogue Uchiha proved capable of space-time teleportation superior to the Fourth Hokage, as well as literally intangible to all attacks, including the top Juuken techniques and the Uzumaki Chakra Chains before escaping – twice over, as both Uzumaki Naruto and Hanzo himself unleashed them upon the enemy at different points."

He let the revelation of the Uzumaki bloodline's resurgence settle in for a moment. When, to his surprise, no one asked about Hanzo's 'Susanoo', Shikaku continued. "The Uchiha's technique has been assessed to be dimensional in nature. Specifically, the nin displaces himself, either partially or totally, in a different dimension. He is thus reportedly capable of teleporting or becoming intangible at will, like a ghost. Thankfully, he cannot do both at the same time. Despite this, he proved to have mastered his limitation enough that it did not matter. Further, there was no one on hand to exploit his theoretical weakness to Yin release." The first time at least. "This all happened roughly at the same time as the ANBU were storming the main ROOT base, and in fact the battle between Danzo and the Third concluded just minutes before the one at the Uchiha Compound."

And what a confounding battle, even Shikaku wasn't sure what all he should classify, or at what level. Shikaku had sent Yamanaka Inoichi to debrief the VIPs bunkering in the Uchiha council house, while he was doing the mop-up of the ROOT-disguised-as-Akatsuki attackers. The headache from the ensuing memory transfer had been more than physical. Masanari had been surprisingly frank about what all he did, even though he knew his way around bloodline secrecy clauses, but his terminology wasn't the most familiar.

Shikaku got the essentials though, which consisted of the man somehow possessing Hashirama-level healing of his own, being able to paralyze though skin contact, having created a device capable of shooting deadly projectiles faster than gun jutsu, and being capable of manifesting something eerily similar to an Uchiha's Susanoo… somehow. Only it was seemingly less defensive and more offensive oriented. At least when 'Trito' wasn't healing people instead. Excruciatingly painfully. Of everything up to incurable poison that was actually a swarm of nano-sized flesh-devouring bugs.

The Hokage's sealed records had everything Hanzo-related labelled 'top secret', but that no longer applied after such a public display well beyond what was in there. And that was without even touching on the man's very late toad.

Anything to do with Uchiha Obito would ideally be buried in the deepest hole too, but the missing nin had just as publicly exhibited superior techniques to the Fourth in his escape, only to use and abuse the same ridiculous powers and equally shocking wood release to come back for a decapitation strike right away. And on that note…

"What occurred after the seeming retreat of the Uchiha missing-nin has only been reconstituted through investigation that is still ongoing, and mind scans of the hokage guard platoon, now killed in action. I will now pass to Yamanaka Inoichi."

Inoichi sat forward. "The events were pieced together from the fragmented last visual memories of Raidō Namiashi, Genma Shiranui and Iwashi Tatami. I will weave an illusion technique of the events as best they could be pieced together."

Three chunin whose understanding of space-time techniques was necessarily the best in Konoha after the Hokage himself, and even they had only witnessed parts of the whole. When put together, their last moments were the reason why Shikaku was so blazingly angry and yet so much more distressed at Konoha's prospects.

And horrified.

No, call it was it is, he was literally afraid for the future.

Inoichi cast his genjutsu, and Shikaku allowed himself to be swept in it. He was suddenly the leader of all ninja forces, so his only avenue for punishing his utter failure as Konoha's strategic mastermind was self-flagellation. He was rather like Hatake Kakashi in that respect, though unlike the man – whose skills and position as ANBU commander made him more valuable leading the infiltration sweep and lockdown enforcement, seeing as he had been debriefed already – Shikaku couldn't afford not to be here right now.

Witnessing the memories again only enforced Shikaku's initial conclusion that Uchiha Obito hadn't planned to go back to the party, or do anything else. The man liked to talk, or his put-upon persona was one that liked to talk about himself, so he let slip quite a few things, despite how quickly he went about his murders. Uchiha Obito had been fully willing to wait a while before coming back for a second round, if only to eliminate the 'new Hashirama' when there weren't so many distractions and obstacles around anymore. When everyone thought they were safe.

As disturbing as it was to imagine that Konoha's chain of command had been decapitated on a whim, it really did seem as if Obito had only gone off to mess with Danzo on the way out, in retaliation for his sudden and characteristic betrayal. Perhaps loot ROOT as his consolation prize, since he had been exposed and denied his main prize.

But the missing nin stumbled right into the aftermath of the Third's attack on the base, just as an ANBU had finished reporting to the Third about the disturbance in the Uchiha compound. And because Uchiha Obito can apparently exist only when he wants to, and because he was apparently an unstable, whimsical bastard, he decided to take a shot at the Third. Just as the Hokage guard platoon were distracted with setting up the sealwork to send the Third to the Uchiha Compound with the Flying Thunder God technique.

It was just their luck that Shimura Danzo had spent the last few years building up a literal bioweapon known as the Jar of Poison technique. A bioweapon made of Aburame Torune's unique nanoscale insects, and which Danzo himself had chosen not to unleash despite the fatal threat coming for him. A bioweapon that Uchiha Obito decided to use… because what? Because he liked the irony? His cover was blown anyway so he may as well go out swinging? Because it might just kill him too, and he was curious enough to find out?

Finally, the genjutsu replay reached the fateful moment. The one-eyed Uchiha went intangible the same moment when he popped the cork. The poison cloud burst out so fast it was too quick for even Shikaku's trained eyes to track.

And then, in the most tragic irony for all of them, the Third Hokage overperformed.

Shikaku watched grimly as Lord Sarutobi Hiruzen used shadow clones to combine various elemental and sealing techniques to contain the thrown bomb, while the three engaged the new enemy. The Third contained the whole thing, and even forced the nano-bugs back into the jar and put the lid back on, seals and everything. But while he was doing that, Obito had a comfortable time window to pick off Namiashi, Shiranui and Tatami.

Then he managed to grab onto the Third just as the latter was finishing his extremely exhausting and lifespan-cutting jutsu combo. Which, in a feat that made Shikaku bite his own tongue from more emotion than even he could process, made it impossible for the Third to defend himself from a grapple on top of everything.

The Uchiha grabbed the Third and vanished with him in a whirlpool of shadows. Then he reappeared moments later and noticed the Jar of Poison restored for a second use. To Shiranui's dying ears, the rogue Uchiha's idle musings sounded like he had been given a sign from the gods. If the 'good' guys were every bit as prone to engineering their own future's destruction as the 'bad' ones, how could Obito not help it along?

Shikaku was shamefully grateful than the other Konoha ninja were even more horrified than himself. And afraid. It let him look as if he was waiting for them to regain themselves, instead of needing all that time for himself.

"… How can anyone be so powerful?" Breathed Hamaki Mimura. Which was no small thing from one of just four ninja who survived an ambush by an entire battalion of Iwa shinobi during the war, until the Fourth arrived to relieve them. "No, how can anyone become so powerful without us knowing he even exists?"

Shikaku considered his options. "What I am about to reveal should be classified, but it is too late since the secret has already been revealed." By Masanari back at the party, which was definitely the right tactical and strategic decision, though how he knew was something Shikaku was still extremely anxious to find out. "The man's name is Uchiha Obito. We are certain now that he is the same man that fought the Fourth and unleashed the kyuubi upon Konoha on that night."

Even Konoha's jonin couldn't completely maintain their composure at that revelation, and it only got worse when one of them realized out loud that this was Hatake Kakashi's former teammate, and the Fourth's own student. If the scale of Danzo's treason was unconscionable, there was literally no fathoming this one.

Konoha always produces geniuses, Shikaku thought darkly. But it has trouble keeping them.

Shikaku watched grimly. His ninja would not reclaim their emotional balance for some time after that disclosure. He'd much have preferred leaving that topic for last, but it couldn't be helped. He could only conclude the briefing now and hope they mastered themselves with their usual efficiency, since he had neither the energy nor time to coddle his forces. Especially their leaders. "While all this was unfolding, either as part of a contingency plan or for his own reasons, Orochimaru was slithering his way through the village and 'salvaging' what he could."

"'Slithering' is right, the scum, he should never have been allowed to escape in the first place."

Shikaku cast a quelling gaze over the collected shinobi, just so he didn't need to linger on the speaker in particular. He was thankful that the Hokage's daughter had already been benched from the ANBU before this mess, due to her pregnancy. But her being present as the sole representative still left of the Sarutobi main family was only a reminder of their dire straights. "Whatever his reasons, Orochimaru decided to throw his lot in with Uchiha Obito completely at this point, and backed him up during the follow-up attack on the Uchiha Clan grounds. I will now lay out the butcher's bill from today's –" completely unsalvageable clusterfuck "- unfortunate events."

A missing Hokage. A crippled command structure. Dozens of sharingan eyes stolen from hundreds murdered, either by Orochimaru, Obito, or any of the unknown number of ROOT agents that escaped amidst the confusion of Obito's follow-up. And what may end up the first and only fall from grace to ever be suffered by one of Konoha's three royal bloodlines.

While the standoff had been going on at the party grounds, Orochimaru had been picking off members of the police force elsewhere. The twenty-eight deaths there weren't crippling by themselves, but they were from among the more formidable, and fifteen had fully mature sharingan eyes which were now missing. Added to that were forty-three killed as collateral – not counting the silenced witnesses not Uchiha, who were still being found in ones and twos down sewer grates and back alleys.

An additional pair of mature sharingan were missing from the mother of Uchiha Shisui, who was now among the deceased as well. As she had been honorably discharged on health grounds in the early days of the last war, and had been visiting her favorite bakery to pick up ingredients for a surprise cake for her son when the fights broke out – which happened to be in a completely different part of the village where none of the trouble otherwise reached – she could only have been singled out deliberately. The only question was whether it was some other completely undetectable accomplice of Obito's, ROOT – on behalf of Danzo – or Orochimaru. All three had potential motive. Petty and spiteful motive, but all three men were provably capable of being petty and spiteful, even if one of them did his best to pretend otherwise.

Most seriously, a further two hundred and two Uchiha had died to the ROOT insurgents and Obito's follow-up biological weapon attack, some of whom now had their eyes missing as well.

Masanari's attempt at containing the rinkaichu poison jar bomb had gone much more poorly than his last-ditch healing technique. The collateral damage from the rest was quite widespread as well, up until Uzumaki's possession by his father's chakra ghost (Shikaku still wanted to know how was that even possible). With their total number dropping from 702 to 428, and many of their best among the deceased, the Uchiha clan would have a hell of a time keeping their standing.

Especially next to the Hyuuga Clan who hadn't just lost a third of their number and clan head.

Shikaku could only hope Uchiha Obito had retreated in earnest this time. Not that they had any way to make sure, with the man's absurd powers. The barrier team could only monitor the barrier itself, not what was inside it or outside, and even that surface area was a strain, it was why their shifts were so short.

Shikaku had ordered half-hourly reports on the states of the Uchiha corpses. If any of them turned out missing eyes later, they'll know the bastard was still lurking around. Stalking them. Taunting them. Disrespecting their dead. So many dead, the toll was worse than any mission in any war where Lord Minato wasn't on the field.

Worse than most of those too. On both sides. Combined.

"We are at war, gentlemen," Shikaku finished grimly. "The opening strike was more devastating than any other Konoha has suffered in its whole history. Worse, we don't even know with whom, or why. While we scramble to rectify that, I'll be relying on you all to come up with – and do – whatever it takes to best limit who else decides to join in while we're reeling."

Wind was nominally allied with them, and Water might be too caught up in its own problems depending on how bad the bloodline-related strife had grown. But Lightning were opportunists with more ego than sense, and it didn't matter what the Stone Daimyo wished because Iwagakure wanted nothing more than for everyone in Konoha to suffer and die. Not necessarily in that order. Also, the Uzumaki bloodline was very openly and loudly involved. That might tip Water into aggression all by itself.

Shikaku didn't fool himself – a mere day's events had brought Konoha and the Land of Fire to the very cusp of complete ruin.

The worst part was that they were stuck in reactionary mode on all fronts. There was already no way to cover up the sudden death – disappearance – of your Kage, but on top of everything else? Even if people didn't see the smoke rising from all the way in the capital when dawn broke, the news would reach them faster than Lady Tsunade's presence in the nearest casino.

Just the lockdown alone was a red alert to the rest of the world. They had dozens of clients or their representatives stranded here in Konoha while it was closed. Maybe they could at least delay news on that front, but it was pointless. Both Obito and Orochimaru had successfully escaped – never mind their prizes – and an unknown number of ROOT agents were unaccounted for as well. There wasn't the slightest hope of information containment. The news was probably going to reach the farthest ends of the country by sunrise.

Shikaku glanced at the clock.

So about six hours.

Shikaku rose to his feet.

The other ninja did the same and stood at attention.

"I am initiating code orange. A full muster will be deferred for now, but this may yet change within the tenday. As of this moment, all shinobi on the rolls are called to duty, all the nin on missions below A-rank are recalled, and all reserves are to be on standby. Your immediate responsibilities are in the briefs provided. Report for duty immediately."

"Yes, sir!"

The gathered shinobi saluted and went to fulfil their written orders.

Soon, only Shikaku and four others were left in the upper level of the Detection Division chamber. The Interception Division would normally be on standby there, but they were out adding their expertise to the scouring of infiltrators until further notice.

As the other two thirds of the unbeatable Ino-Shika-Chou formation, having Yamanaka Inoichi and Akimichi Chouza on hand was both expected and good sense. Shikaku asked Chouza to escort the new – hopefully only temporary - Lady Sarutobi back home.

That left him and Inoichi with Uchiha Itachi. He wasn't a jonin, so he could not be invested with any executive authority outside his clan or eventual mission team, the latter of which was no longer applicable. The boy's ANBU employment and even more standard shinobi prospects had been cut short by his new position.

Nevertheless, there were some blind spots and gaps in knowledge that Shikaku still had himself, which could yet prove ruinous. For better or worse, Itachi was the one in the best position to fill them.

Itachi approached, his face a deathly mask. "Lord Nara. I have the preliminary findings from the investigation you requested."

"Lord Uchiha," Shikaku nodded. "Report."

"Lord Hanzo's dome has somehow healed everyone tossed inside of literally every imperfection, and it may be that their health will be even better than before once they recover from the stress."

'Stress' and 'health' were both putting it mildly. The man had somehow given Uzumaki-level vitality to a whole bunch of people. As a side benefit to a mass body purification technique he wasn't even there to oversee. Cast through a frog.

"Nevertheless, while the strain was too much for most to endure while conscious, the same was not true of my father, if only thanks to his briefer exposure to the poison insects. He was able to muster enough strength to rejoin the battle mere minutes after administration. Soon after I delivered Shisui there, my father joined the battle against the enemy and launched his own counter-ambush on Uchiha Obito. By this stage, Uzumaki – or the Fourth – appeared to have disrupted Obito's ability to activate his techniques consistently, with whatever Yin technique the Fourth's mental clone devised."

So far it was all things Shikaku already knew, but he wasn't going to chastise the boy for following protocol. There were worse anchors for an elite child genius to latch onto in an emotional crisis that could very well make him completely snap.

"My Lord-Father proved somewhat more successful than Lord Hyuuga in his ambush, and the missing nin burned to death." Wait, did he really, but then-? "Unfortunately, the madman had taken a moment to 'acquire' a pair of replacement eyes from one of our newly deployed guards, just moments before he launched his second assault of the day. He was able to cast Izanagi a second time while none of us could see through the fire. More so, my father and I were on opposite sides of the battlefield by that point."

Shikaku hated where this was going.

"Somehow the Fourth still reacted in time when Obito appeared behind my father, despite how badly Uzumaki was flagging at this point. Unfortunately, Obito decided to accept the harm in order to stab my father in the back of the head." Sage above, how many more reverse cards did that madman have? "Then, when Minato-sama finally seemed to have disrupted his techniques once again, and Obito was finally pinned down and chained, the enemy activated Izanagi again to appear fully restored several feet away, before vanishing in a whirlpool of shadows for good."

How did he-? "A pair of eyes," Shikaku realized. "You said he'd made a stop to acquire a replacement pair. He'd only used one."

Itachi nodded woodenly. "And replaced it with his last spare while intangible in the fire."

Shikaku made sure not to react, and was glad Inoichi was not in Itachi's field of view. "I see." The Jonin Commander mentally added mid-battle transplant surgery to the missing nin's increasingly daunting list of abilities. How the hell were they going to defeat this man?

Well, it was his job to find out, wasn't it? He'd need more than a few minutes of thinking to figure that one out, that was for sure. If they could even find him. And somehow communicate with whatever was left of the Fourth in the Uzumaki boy, if anything, to see if they could learn whatever technique he employed. The fox was not responding to requests to 'bring me into the seal' and the boy himself was unconscious. It didn't look like any painless or peaceful unconsciousness either. If nothing changed soon, Shikaku might just have to risk Inoichi doing a mental dive into the seal.

Any other day he might have brought Shisui in to breach the seal defenses and force answers out of the fox with his special sharingan, since the kyuubi had a known and proven vulnerability to it, even through the best fuuinjutsu. But after everything he'd seen and learned lately, the Uchiha relative to the nine-tails were now a last resort.

What irony, that he still agreed with Shimura Danzo on some things. "And the last matter?"

Itachi's face was practically carved from stone. "No one knows who killed Uchiha Mikoto." Uchiha Mikoto. Not 'mother'. Itachi had been on much more agreeable terms with her than his father, what did it say about his emotional state that he only acknowledge his relation? "Since this was after Orochimaru escaped Konoha with Lord Hanzo, but after the Fourth – through Uzumaki – engaged Obito, we can only assume the deed belongs to one of the ROOT attackers that escaped."

Or the same person who went after Shisui's mother, Shikaku thought but didn't say. "Thank you, Itachi."

Itachi nodded shallowly. "Was that all?"

"It was."

"Then with your leave I shall go see to my clan." Itachi turned, but stopped to look back over his shoulder. "Shisui bid me ask that you keep us specifically informed of any information regarding Lord Hanzo." The three tomoes in his red eye grew long and sharp until the sharingan looked like a pinwheel. "For my part, however, I will be equally satisfied by news on the whereabouts of his abductor. And the traitor."

Shit.

Shikaku waited until Itachi was out of the room, then reactivated the privacy barrier. "Inoichi, check me for tampering."

Inoichi turned grave, but did as asked. He found nothing untoward in his mind or memories, which was a greater relief than it should have been.

"Should Itachi be watched?" Inoichi asked.

"… No." Shikaku decided. Having the Uchiha put on suspicion based on one man's personal bias was what brought them to the current mess. "I don't actually suspect Itachi of anything, but with what Shisui can do at a glance – which I'm going to keep classified beyond even your current clearance – I'm not taking chances. Especially now."

"Very well." Inoichi looked at the door and back. "What happened to the Uchiha is a disgrace, and what it did to that boy is worse. I don't want to think how young Sasuke must be taking it."

Or Shisui. "How's Ino?"

"Scared and unable to sleep, but not traumatized, thankfully. She didn't get a direct view of any blood or dead bodies before she was evacuated. How's Shikamaru?"

"Ashamed he didn't spot the man in the tree."

"Not even the byakugan did."

"I told him the same, and he said it didn't matter because if a civilian could do it, he has no excuse."

"He's a civilian too, and a small child on top."

"I told him that too, but he told me it didn't matter because we're Nara, so we're supposed to see through stuff like this. When I pointed out I didn't see through it either, he said he was closer so he should have noticed, because if the next generation doesn't do at least as good as the last, he's a failure."

"… I'll have another talk with Ino."

"Bring her over when you do. I'll ask Chouza to bring Chouji as well. Maybe if Shikamaru hears it from someone else enough times, he'll believe me."

Inoichi sighed. "At least we got off easy."

Unlike half the other children and especially Hyuuga Hinata, who was almost skewered to death if not for Masanari taking the hit with his guts. She didn't end up sprayed with blood at least, but Shikaku didn't want to return to that world where they had to constantly settle for just the smallest mercies.

All the clans may very well ramp up security back to where they were when they first joined the village, in their compounds.

It had taken decades for the clans to finally trust that the others really were letting bygones be bygones in favor of a better and happier life. The village's own defenses were supposed to shelter that trust. Now, the Will of Fire itself had been exploited for what could have been total ruin, instead of the partial one of now. Were the shinobi of the Leaf going to return to that hypervigilance and mutual suspicion from the clan war days?

Am I going to be the one to lead Konoha through the final death of Senju Hashirama's dream?

Shikaku sent Inoichi back to comb the brains of the T&I prisoners while he summoned Ibiki for his own report. It could essentially be summarised as 'we can't get anything out of them so long as the seal on their tongue persists, and the only way to get it off is to rip out the whole tongue, defeating the purpose.'

"Any word on lord Jiraiya?" Ibiki asked when he was finished.

"None."

"Damn. By your leave then, I'll get back to work."

"Dismissed."

'Damn' was right. According to Lord Hiruzen's hokage-eyes-only records, he'd sent a recall order to Lord Jiraiya almost a week ago. However, to avoid tipping Danzo off, he'd told the Sannin to come in secret and not enter the village. Instead, Jiraiya was ordered to wait in Shukuba-Machi, the first of Konoha's supply stopways outside its immediate surveillance grid. It was located two hours out of Konoha at ninja speed. Shikaku supposed it was also the least likely of all available options to spook Danzo – and ROOT – into turtling even if they did learn he was in the area.

Unfortunately, Lord Jiaryia was nowhere to be found, nor was there a sign he had been there in the past six months. Shikaku still had people looking.

The record didn't say if a hawk or nin had been dispatched with the order, which was frustrating because it could have dramatic implications on strategy. Either the order had been intercepted, or Lord Jiraiya himself had been. If the former, it meant traitors that may or may not have already been caught. If the latter, Shikaku could only hope Orochimaru was behind the delay. The alternative was that an outside power was involved from not among those they already knew, meaning that the Fourth Great Ninja War had already started.

Shikaku seriously considered executing Danzo just to see if the seals on the ROOT nin tongues disappeared with his death. The sealing division hadn't come back with a report on that yet.

For better or worse, that decision had to be put off while he met with the advisors Homura and Koharu – if only to tell them they were sidelined from decision-making until it was determined how Danzo-adjacent they'd been – and the next batch of Jonin. He was not looking forward to doing more of the same over the next few days, but that was his job now. On and off every time enough of them returned from outside the village. The sensei currently out on missions with genin teams weren't the most sensitive issue, but they were up there. Shikaku hoped they, at least, made it back before the usual suspects decided it was prime time for strategic asset denial.

Thank the Sage that they were between Chuunin exams, because he didn't even want to imagine the nightmare of saboteurs and hostages that would have invited.

Finally, Shikaku found himself alone behind the Hokage's desk.

What's the most critical objective, and what's the next one?

Get back the Hokage and prevent World War Four.

Shikaku spent the next while breaking both objectives down into smaller segments. Smaller and smaller segments until he decided that he'd need a better response time than the Hokage Tower provided if he wanted to remain tactically relevant while considering strategy.

He returned to the barrier room to do his thinking in there instead, up on the mezzanine where he could see the barrier in miniature and reassure himself that, at least, was still whole and intact.

Finally, a plan took shape. If one of the Third's children were willing to sign their father's contract, they could at least make contact with the Apes of Mount Huaguo. Lord Enma would certainly attempt a reverse summoning. It shouldn't matter where the Third had been taken. Failure would indicate his death, in which case they could at least move on to succession, instead of being paralysed in such a critical state.

Lord Sarutobi's daughter was ANBU so she would follow orders, but she was also pregnant and barely had the chakra capacity for summoning Noble Beasts during her last assessment. It was why she had come up with pre-sealed stone golems as a substitute to begin with. Both the child and her life would be jeopardized, but she would do it if ordered. That was why she had joined the ANBU despite her father's misgivings – she wanted to prove that she did have loyalty to her father, unlike her brother.

Said brother, however, definitely had the chakra. Asuma Sarutobi. The man was estranged from his father due to personal disagreements, which was why he went to serve as one of the Daimyo's Twelve Guardians instead of staying in the village. His position wouldn't have been granted if he weren't on par with their most elite jonin, unlike his sister who was still a chunin. He would set whatever differences he had with his family aside to save his father's life, surely?

It was while Shikaku was debating whether to wait until morning or not, to send word to the capital, that the barrier nin gave a start.

"Contact barrier, north-western sector!"

Shikaku twitched. The adrenaline was like a wash of ice down his spine. He jumped down. "Report!"

"It's strange – it felt like the barrier was prodded, somehow, but – there it is again! Contact third, fourth… fifth now-"

"It doesn't feel like anyone or anything is coming through," the second of three barrier nin said. "None of the chakra interacting with the barrier is, at least."

Shikaku blinked, then felt his hypervigilance teeter between spiking and thawing. It was a disconcerting feeling, but he recognized it. Could it be? "Do you have the precise location?" He asked while he took out a scroll and brush. He had a hunch. "Is the contact mobile or stationary?"

"… We can detect no presence, exactly, if it's chakra interacting with the barrier, it is so well controlled that not a trace of it lingers within the barrier's footprint… but the intruding pressure seems to be reprising in the same spot, section S-13, exterior, base of the outer wall."

Shikaku considered dispatching a capture team, but hesitated when he recognized the location. That stretch of wall was right behind where the Uzumaki Clan's mask storage temple was located. He knew this because it had come up in conversation with the Third as another potential meeting place between Hanzo and Lord Jirayia. With the general expectation that Masanari Hanzo would be confirmed part of Clan Uzumaki in the near future – if not its regent – and the well-known fact that he was growing giant toads not part of the Toad contract, there was a fairly widespread expectation among the ranks that those two men would have to meet. As such, it had come up in both casual and professional discussions more than once. "Tell me precisely when the pulses happen."

The ninja obeyed, and soon Shikaku was confident in his earlier assumption. "It's Wabun Code. Continue relaying the pattern, be as precise as you can."

They did as ordered, and soon Shikaku had the full message written down. He couldn't believe his own brushstrokes. He felt a sudden onset of giddiness bubbling up in his chest from somewhere, entirely inappropriate in their current crisis.

'This is Masanari. Should I go through barrier, beneath, over, or use gate? Please advise.'

Shikaku covered his mouth lest he break out in utterly inappropriate laughter. Then his moodlift abruptly took a nosedive again. If Masanari was going this far to be circumspect, did that mean he was alone? What happened to Hyuuga Hiashi? And Aburame Shibi? He'd sent them out specifically to retrieve him, at their own request too. Was it a mistake? Was it also a mistake to let them fill their own team vacancies on the way out? Had they brought down the mission? "… Can the barrier be manipulated from here?"

Also, since when could Masanari see it, never mind poke it? Nobody should be able to do that.

"Manipulated how?"

"Can you pulse it in a desired pattern?"

The three ninja exchanged looks. "The barrier's power is stabilized from remote anchors, precisely so taking out one – or our team itself – does not disrupt it. But…"

"Two of us should be able to send a shutdown command while the third vetoes it. The feedback will not be pleasant for us if done for an extended period, but past stress-testing indicates that a minute or two should be safe enough. There will be a momentary dimming effect each time this is done."

Shikaku quickly jotted down his own Wabun code. "Pulse the barrier precisely when I tell you."

"Yes, sir."

"Begin on my mark."

They began and the message went out.

'Lockdown in effect. No perimeter breaches. Meet at western gate. Shikaku out.'

Wabun code was standard knowledge across shinobi forces, so there was no way the barrier nin didn't know exactly what had been said in that back-and-forth. Alas, it couldn't be helped.

They waited for a reply, and sure enough it came.

'Understood. Am due debrief anyway.'

Well.

At least someone was being helpful today.

It was in theme too, at this point. The Uzumaki had always been the problem child of shinobi clans. It was always just a matter of time before they next drew attention from the most troublesome places.

More importantly, the barrier was supposed to be invisible, and in fact everyone who awakened the byakugan or sharingan was ordered to try and see it every time their bloodline advanced. So far, nobody had in all of Konoha's history. If Masanari could somehow see it now, could anyone else? And if so, how big a vulnerability was it?

"Obviously, what occurred here just now is need to know," Shikaku ordered as he returned his writing supplies to his pouches. "Let me be clear: other than the three of you and myself, no one needs to know. Not your replacements, not the hokage's former advisors, not the Daimyo, not anyone save the Hokage, whether the Third or the next one."

"Understood." The three hesitated. "Good luck, sir."

Shikaku accepted the goodwill in the spirit it was given before leaving with all speed.

Hanzo's bizarre approach to contact probably meant he had escaped and made his way back to Konoha alone.

Hopefully that didn't also mean that the Hyuuga and Aburame clans had also lost their clan heads today.


Chapter 17 is available on Patreon (karmicacumen), Ko-fi (karmicacumen) and Subscribestar (karmic-acumen), along with advance chapters on The Unified Theorem, Reset the Universe, and Master of Wood, Water and Hill .
 
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