Chapter 73: The Power of the Tailed Beasts
At three AM, the darkest part of the night, Temari, Kankuro, and Shikamaru moved amongst the others, waking them. The rescue party had found an indentation in the wall of the ravine, deep enough to almost qualify as a cave. They covered the entrance with their chameleon tarps, and took their rest before the assault. After they were all roused, the shinobi took a few brief minutes to awaken and prepare.
"So what's the plan?" Kiba asked openly, seemly resolved at last. They had finished taking down the makeshift camp, and were ready to deploy.
"Team Anko and the Sand Siblings will take the north path," Hinata told them, "Team Yugao, Kaede, and Rock Lee will take the south path. Neji, Tenten, Sakura, and I will take the middle path. Try to stay hidden as long as you can. Remember, our goal is to rescue Naruto, not to fight the Akatsuki."
Each shinobi indicated his or her understanding, and they split up as ordered. Hinata's team darted down the middle gully, sticking close to the wall despite the thick blanket of night. After the first few minutes of cautious advancement, Neji suddenly broke the silence.
"Hinata, may I ask how you determined these groups?" he asked in a controlled whisper.
"I wanted to keep a certain balance," she replied just as quietly, "I made sure each team had one of the four Jonin. And since Sakura, Ino, and Shino are all fully qualified medical ninjas, I chose so that one of them was part of each group. Finally, except for Lee, I kept the squads together to preserve teamwork."
"Why did you send Lee with Sasame and the others?" Tenten joined the conversation with her own query.
"Because I was worried about that team," Hinata admitted, "Even after the break, Shino is somewhat tired from caring for the Bikochu. Kiba did not want to be here in the first place. And Kaede is too much of a mystery, in both her motives and her combat abilities. So I sent Lee to reinforce them."
"Shh," Sakura silenced them, as the outline of the battlement became visible due to the torches on top.
Neji used his conflicting emotions to keep his expression neutral. He was impressed by Hinata's reasoning, but it also brought back memories of the deliberation of the council, not three full days prior, and the Council's underestimation of Hinata. The Jonin bottled his feelings, for the sake of the task at hand. Tenten was watching him, recognizing her lover's introspection.
The lights moved away, and the Leaf shinobi slipped silently forward towards the barricade. When they reached the base, they waited for the guards to move to the opposite side before they began scaling the wall, spider style.
"What the heck are you doing, you stupid fuzzball?" Naruto shouted, falling away from his counterpart's chakra wrapped fingers. He rolled to his feet, and hopped back as Naruko closed in again. This time she kept up with him, and the young man grabbed her hand, flipping the humanoid projection over his shoulder. The demoness was both faster and more flexible, and she twisted about in mid air, slamming her left heel into the side of Naruto's head.
"I'm taking my chance, possibly my last chance," she sneered as he stumbled away, "I have to kill you now, before the Akatsuki do..."
The human shinobi took the stance of the Whipping Willows, and dodged the demon's next two attacks.
"Won't you die too?" Naruto demanded, as she caught his counterattack, cutting into his arm. He snatched his limb back, and tried to slip around her next kick, but her greater speed allowed her to clip him anyway, nearly knocking him down.
"Probably not," the Bijuu in human form smirked. She hopped back, and began to sign.
"After all, I can destroy your mind and soul, but your body will live," she explained, "In which case it becomes my body by inheritance. And if I'm wrong..."
Naruko shrugged with a mildly sad expression, and then completed her technique.
"Fire Style: Burning Tails Jutsu." The Bijuu spun around and her two chakra tails lengthened and caught fire, lashing out at her host. Naruto was forced to abandon his defensive style, flipping backwards awkwardly to escape the attack. But the ignited extensions followed him. The right tail clipped his right elbow just before Naruto made it out of range.
"Cyclone Spikes," Naruto crafted the jutsu without signing, and as a result only created three missiles. Naruko's tail batted them away dismissively. She charged in again, swiping quickly with her claws. He knocked her first attack away, but her second slash cutting through his shirt and the outer layer of his skin, drawing a small amount of blood.
"Shadow Clone Jutsu," Naruto tried to spawn duplicates, to buy some time, but nothing happened. The humanoid projection of the fox laughed at him.
"You can't create duplicates within your mind," she mocked him.
"You did," he countered.
"This body is not a Shadow Clone, it is a mental construct," she explained condescendingly, "Two completely different things."
"Kitsune," he tried to summon his staff-blade, but the weapon did not appear either. He focused and called again, but still remained empty handed.
"Same thing," she laughed, "This is the world created by our minds and the seal that joins us. What's real won't necessarily work here, and vice versa."
"What in the world?" the scientist paused in the extraction when the subject's weapon suddenly teleported on top of his chest. One of the assistants darted in and returned the staff-blade to its previous position on the table in the corner.
"Rasengan," Naruto announced, and looked relieved when the sphere formed over his hand. His triumph was short lived, however.
"Fuuton: Rasengan," Naruko held up the wind orb, and charged him again.
"How can you do that?" he groused, avoiding her attack, and missing her by a wide margin with his return strike.
"Anything you can do, I can do," she boasted, "I know all your fighting styles, all of your Ninjutsu. Unfortunately for you, the reverse does not apply. And on top of that, I have better mental focus and chakra control."
She swung the Fuuton: Rasengan down, and Naruto brought his own sphere to intercept. The fox's human face grinned smugly, knowing his Rasengan was no match for her enhanced orb. But at the last instant, the Leaf warrior conjured a second chakra ball in his left hand, and caught her attack between both of his. Though the elemental jutsu would have easily overpowered one of its vanilla predecessors, the two plain Rasengans together and at different angles were enough to destabilize the Fuuton: Rasengan. All three spheres exploded, but Naruto pushed forward, taking a handful of minor cut for the chance to land a knee to her gut, and then a backhand strike to her face. Naruko bounced away from him, but landed on her feet, scowling.
"Don't go thinking I'm some pushover," Naruto warned her, with more confidence in his voice than he felt in his heart, "I'm the guy who outsmarted Zabuza and Neji."
"Noted," she hissed, charging forward in an erratic pattern, faster than she had been before. She struck at his left, and as he turned to defend, she circled around, too quick for him to follow. The Kyubi slashed twice across his back, and Naruto allowed the force of her first blow to knock him away so he was spared the worst of the second. As he rotated dully to face her, he realized his injuries were not healing like normal. He signed while moving back, activating the regeneration jutsu Tsunade had forced him to learn. The fox watched him, but did not move to interfere.
"You're causing this?" he asked, "Some sort of Jutsu, like Kabuto?"
"Nothing so grand," she shook her head, "I'm just withholding my power. No sense in healing you while I myself am trying to kill you."
[Chapter 73 - continued]
Naruto's eyes narrowed in annoyance, but also in thought.
'She's in Two-Tails mode,' he considered, 'Which means she's at least half again as strong and fast as I am. And I don't have her power right now. I need to think of some way to even the playing field. Wait 'think'... That's it!'
Naruto held out his arm, and Naruko paused to stare at him in amusement. He focused his thoughts, and then called out again, but this time to create, not to summon.
"Kitsune," he proclaimed, and the demoness looked ready to laugh. But a shadow formed above his hand, becoming more solid and opaque, until the staff-blade dropped into his waiting palm.
"Cute," she hissed, darting in. This time Naruto was able to block her blows, using the weapon's reach to help him negate her speed. In addition, while Naruto had been unable to stop her flame-wrapped claws with his bare hands, the same did not apply to the metal staff-blade. The heat had no impact on Kitsune, allowing Naruto to fight with less fear.
"Like you said, this world is mental. Since I made Kitsune with Ninjutsu, I crafted it with my mind in the first place."
"I will have to be more careful with my taunts," she groused, "A lesson I should have learned the last time."
She caught his downward stroke with her wrist, and though Naruko winced, there was not the breaking sound he was hoping for. He spun back for a horizontal slash, but he was still slowed by closing cuts in his back. The demoness was able to jump over the attack, while launching a roundhouse kick at his head. Uzumaki leaned back so her foot harmlessly passed over his head, but she shifted her body as if she expected this, and caught Kitsune's pole. She had almost freed the weapon from her container's grasp when he manifested the wind blade, forcing her to let go. As a result both of them ended up off balance and they stumbled apart.
When Naruto straightened, he found his gender swapped duplicate beaming at him in vicious happiness.
"For a few minutes, I thought you were going to make this easy," she told him, he fingers and nails growing into even longer claws, and the lightning of Ranshinsho mingling with her fire chakra.
"But it looks like you are going to make this tough enough to be fun, but not enough to be a real threat," she continued, "Just the way I like it."
Naruto frowned as he cinched his grip on the cerebral version of Kitsune, and then took the offensive. He lengthened and widened the blade further as he strode back into range, slicing back and forth wildly with a two-handed grip. She laughed at his poor form, but when she blocked his attack, Naruto quickly dropped the pretense of desperation and returned the blade to its regular size to slide past her defenses. She stopped what could have been a lethal blow at the last instant, closing her claws to pin the blade and twisting her torso. She still took a light cut to her uncovered left side.
With the flat of the blade sandwiched between her palms, she kicked repeatedly at Naruto's knee. The human was forced to relinquish his blade, or be crippled. As he released Kitsune, the construct faded away. He limped away, barely able to stand, having held on for too long. He started to re-form the weapon, but the Bijuu charged in again, slashing with her left claw while quickly forming a basic Rasengan in her right hand. The human was forced to direct his attention towards keeping her at bay, while trying to heal the damage to his leg so he could both move and kick. Naruko's Rasengan came close enough to his nose that the air currents around it reddened Uzumaki's cheeks. Then her claw scored four deep, burning cut in his forearm when he blocked it. The Chunin launched a quick, feeble jab at her jaw, but had to divert his assault when she raised the spiraling sphere into his path.
Sighing disappointedly, Naruko swept his legs, sending him plowing into the flowers. Withdrawing her chakra, so that her claws reverted to normal human fists, she kicked Naruto in the belly, to flip him over onto his back. She knelt on his shoulders, while her two chakra tails pinned his legs.
"Weak," she punched him in the face.
"Pathetic," her second strike bloodied his nose.
"Insignificant," her fist cracked his cheekbone.
"Human," her last blow dislodged one of his incisors, sending the tooth flying across the once idyllic field.
"But don't worry," she patted the less injured side of his face mockingly, "I'm going to end it now. And I'll even do you another favor; I'll kill Madara for you. After all, he is as much the source of our conjoined misery as Minato was. Since I know he's here, he will be my first target, before I move on to my other plans for your body..."
'Other plans...' he echoed silently. Then he remembered the fox's threat to hunt down Hinata for putting the Zodiac seal on them.
The fox raised her left hand, once again forming it into a claw wrapped in fire chakra. Naruto dug his hands into the earth for leverage, and tried to dislodge her. But in the two-tails form, her strength was too great, and Naruko smirked at his efforts.
"Give it up," she counseled, "Make it easier on both of us. If you do, I promise to make sure Hinata doesn't die… lonely."
Naruto stopped struggling, but his fingers began moving, as the fox pointed her nails at his heart. As her hand started to descend for the final blow...
"Doton: Stone Spears Jutsu!" Uzumaki roared, completing his disconnected hand signs. The Kyubi sprang away as spikes of rock erupted from the ground towards her, but she could not escape entirely. One of the spears took off the middle and ring fingers on her right hand, while another impaled her left leg. Her wounds were already regenerating when she landed, and the earthen Jutsu dissolved, as Naruto unsteadily regained his feet.
"It was Hinata again, wasn't it," the demoness chided herself, "But I suppose prolonging the fight a little isn't bad. Because you still can't beat me. I am stronger, I am faster, I have more chakra, and I still heal on my own. You have no Shadow Clones. I can beat your Rasengan with a stronger one, and you already used up your double teaming trick. So what will you do?"
Naruto glared at her helplessly, knowing she was right. She had seen all his crazy plans, not that he could think of one right now. She took half a step back, loosening her stance and grinning in amusement at his despair.
'She like a better version of me,' Naruto told himself, 'I can't beat her. I can't do it without her power. And… and what?'
He paused, taking a good look around, and then he suddenly grinned.
"What?" the demon demanded. Naruto ignored her, and began to sign.
"Tatsu, Inu, Tora, Ushi, Saru, Kitsune…"
At the sixth hand sign, Naruko's eyes widened in recognition.
"What are you playing at?" she demanded nervously, "That won't work!"
"Kitsune!" Naruto ignored her, ending his jutsu by repeating the unique hand seal for a fourth time, "Ninja Art: Ascendant Fox Jutsu."
Naruto changed as he had during the battle with the Blood-drinker Demon, gaining a vulpine face, a thick pelt of yellow fur, and a single fox tail ripped through the back of his pants. The pain eased from his bright blue eyes as his regenerative powers returned.
"How?" she hissed, crouching down to pounce. She leapt forward, but this time Naruto knocked her claw away with little effort. She struck again, but the teen now matched his duplicate's speed, and his fur was not even singed by her burning aura.
"It's not like I haven't stolen your power before," he reminded her, catching her wrist and then flipping her over his shoulder, "Not that I need to. You had me so wound up before, that I didn't notice. Even without you sending me your power, you are flooding it over here to support your splinter. All I had to do was take what you were offering."
She growled again as she launched a series of rapid punches and kicks at his face and chest. He deflected them effortlessly, all while staring intently into her glowing red eyes. Her snarl increased with each blocked strike. She moved her right foot back, and positioned her right arm for full power right cross. But as her fist began to move forward, she opened her hand, hoping to catch him off guard.
"Fuuton: Rasengan," she announced as her arm passed the halfway point. The deadly sphere was pushed towards Naruto's head with all the strength and speed she could muster.
"Fuuton: Rasengan," he neutralized her attack with his own, almost lazily, and then in his other hand, "Raiton: Rasengan."
Her body jerked wildly as the electrified sphere sparked and cut its way through her wrist. She darted back, leaving her hand behind, but already starting to grow a replacement.
[Chpater 73 - concluded]
'He's got the edge on me now,' she grimaced, 'I could summon more power, but it might trigger the seal. Besides, he might be able to feed off that too. But I still have a few tricks he doesn't know. I'll just have to get him off balance, and finish him quickly.'
But her contemplation cost her, because unlike the demoness, Naruto was not one to toy with his opponents. And he knew there was no point in offering Naruko a chance to surrender. He gathered himself, and ran towards her. She noticed him coming just in time to catch his punch with both of her forearms. She felt her wrist bones crack, and she was pushed back by the force of the blow. She barely leaned away from the snap kick Naruto aimed at her chin. But as she fell, she was also signing.
"Katon: Scorching Kunai," she announced, and a half-dozen knives of fire sprang at Uzumaki. As the human dealt with the constructs; she continued to craft hand seals for a more powerful technique.
"Double Art: Magma River Jutsu," she yelped as she hopped back twice. Fire and earth chakra combined, changing the ground into a stream of superheated liquid rock, quickly flowing towards the teen. Naruto jumped to the side, but Naruko directed her right hand towards him, and the river of lava spread in his direction. The young man continued to dodge the spirit's attack, but she was pushing him towards the cage, with no safe place to escape.
"Do you like my ultimate technique?" she asked, mockingly. Naruto's back was nearly pressed against the cage, and the molten earth was closing in. He could feel the heat, and knew that if this were real, he would be having trouble breathing.
"Goodbye," Naruko waved with her left hand, while directing the magma to surge over him with her right. Naruto jumped straight up, and she laughed at his weak response. Until he raised his right hand above his head, and a sphere of silver chakra began to form over it. The orb grew, and then flattened.
"No, you can't," she screamed, even as Naruto reached the apex of his jump, and started to fall towards the lava.
The disc hurtled towards her, and by the time she ended her jutsu and was able to try to dodge, it was too late. The technique engulfed Naruko, shredding her mental body.
"How?" she croaked, as the energy creating her limbs broke apart
"It wasn't that hard," he said gently, as the ground started to harden underneath him, "This form unifies our chakra, which is why I can form the Fuuton or Raiton Rasengan without clones, I have more power and less meddling from you. On top of that, this mental world lacks many of the drawbacks of the real world."
The last few hairs that the fox had used to form her duplicate drifted down, finally free of the Rasenshuriken's field. Naruto landed in the filthy water, back in his normal form.
The destruction had eliminated the last of the garden. With her shadow's destruction, the fox had stopped broadcasting her energy. Without free access to her chakra, Naruto had become unable to hold on to his vulpine transformation. He turned to face the bars with a triumphant grin, but the demoness was not looking at him. Instead of the giant shadow he had always seen before in the Fourth's prison, the fox retained the smaller, definite shape she had worn in the garden. She faced away from him, ignoring petulantly.
"Sore loser," he called out, mildly annoyed.
"You didn't win," she growled back, "You're still going to die, and I will still be returned to Madara's domination."
Neji placed the body of the last sentinel next to the other four, and then Tenten activated a Ninjutsu that caused the stone rampart to absorb the corpses. Hinata moved to the inner edge of the wall, using her Byakugan to search the dim for any guards on the ground below them. Seeing no one on the inside of the fortification, she signaled her teammates. The four teenage warriors slid down the inside of the wall, landing on the dry riverbed in nearly silent puffs of dust. The quartet paused to make sure they had not been noticed, and then darted forward.
Before they had covered half of a mile into the widening gully, the electric lamps high on the walls burst to life, illuminating the canyon like the noonday sun. The Leaf ninjas were all blinded by the sudden, intense light. They turned towards a crunching noise that approached them, taking defensive positions and blinking to clear their eyes. By the time their vision had recovered; part of the glare had been blocked by the shadow of the seventy-foot long feline, stalking slowly towards them, ready to pounce.
Due to the presence of Akamaru, and to a degree Rock Lee, the southern team was unable to simply climb over the wall. Instead, Kaede had distracted the ground level guards, 'convincing' them to open the gate so she could enter. As soon as she did, Lee and Sasame rushed in, and disabled the Akatsuki minions. The rescue team raced through the bastion before they were noticed.
After they were past the wall and well on their way down the ravine, they heard the doors slam shut, and the portcullis descend.
"What smells like swamp?" Kiba whispered as they tensed for an ambush. He received his answer when lights flared to life in canyon, revealing a turtle even larger than the one they had ridden on the previous morning. Except this reptile had three whip-like tails lashing excitedly behind it.
"Do you remember the original plan?" Tobi asked Deidara.
"Original plan?" the artist wasn't sure what his partner was talking about.
"We were capturing the tailed beast to use directly," Tobi reminded, "Not this nonsense about using their chakra for a massive jutsu. No, we were supposed to turn the Bijuu loose on our enemies, controlling the beasts while making it look like a natural disaster. That way we could kill our foes, and gain good will and money by stepping in to 'fix' the problem. A much more reasonable plan, wouldn't you say?"
"Tobi, you're not…"
"I'm going to kill two birds with one stone," the masked warrior answered smoothly. He held up three simple, silver amulets, each with a different large, fancy cut gemstone.
"These pendants can partially extract one Tailed Beast from the demon god statue. The monster's spirit and about sixty percent of its chakra will be in the pendant. The wearer will be able to manifest and control the demon. But at the same time enough of the demon will remain in the statue to maintain the power balance that prevents the others from breaking free."
He looked directly at Deidara, even though his partner could not see the manic glee in his black eyes.
"I will take out the One, Two, and Three Tails, and entrust them to the candidates to replace Hidan, Kakuzu, and Itachi," Tobi explained, "If they can handle the beasts and slaughter Naruto's friends, they will prove their worth. And at the same time, we will show the five great villages what happens when they try to attack us!"
Kankuro looked up at the giant tanuki of sand, towering over them, and only one thought occurred to him.
Next: Chapter 74: A Jinchuriki's Fate
Cool but the Nine Tailed Fox, sorry abot this reference, is a manipulating, to the point MALE fox with uber power in the manga and anime.
I could have sworn that it was female.
Keep it up Xavon!!!
From what I can discern, the Fox in the manga is referred to indirectly as male, but never explicitly. In addition, Minato sealed the Fox's yang chakra in Naruto, while separating the yin chakra with the Reaper's seal. Since yang represents masculinity, that could make the female fox seem male.
But either way, in this Fan Fic, the fox is female, so just recite the mantra. (if you know what that means).