The Last Prayer @graefoxx
35Shark Attack

Welcome back friends to another adventure!

This won't be long since I have to go to work soon. This chapter takes place immediately after the last one.

Warning: Language, violence.

15.2K words. Please enjoy!

KABUTO

"We must find her," Kabuto hears his master say.

In the deep dark tunnels of their underground base, a detached Kabuto follows his leader toward the surface as he asks, "are you certain she'd be able to counteract your poison in time?"

Kabuto knows the questions he needs to ask, the faces he needs to make, the interest he needs to show, but with every passing day he feels less and less, and the trend worries him, for Orochimaru doesn't allow anyone in his service to lessen in any way. Staring at Orochimaru's back, Kabuto can't help but think how thin the man is, yet he follows his leader up the final step of their base under the heavy vegetation of the dense forest.

As Kabuto activates the entrance's traps, Orochimaru slowly asserts, "never allow waiting to become a habit, Kabuto," making his hands pause. "Moreover," Orochimaru adds. "There's some satisfaction to be had in killing one of Sensei's precious students before his end. The wind of change is the only true tyrant of this world and I will outlive it."

"And Sasuke," Kabuto asks.

"I think it's about time we send those four to the leaf," the snake leader responds, to which Kabuto listlessly nods. "Sasuke should be ready."

KURENAI

Suddenly feeling the sun's heat beat on her more angrily, Kurenai voices what's on Anko's mind as well, "Uchiha Itachi."

Ignoring any irrelevant information, Kurenai won't focus on why Itachi has returned, and instead, both Anko and Kurenai are recalling his abilities and combat prowess; graduated everything early, became a Chūnin without a team, became Anbu captain at thirteen, and of course, murdered nearly every member of the formidable Uchiha clan in a single night. He's one of the most capable shinobi Konoha has ever produced, and in a situation like this, Anko and Kurenai have to be perfect if they want to arrest the dangerous Sharingan user without dying.

The sharp-eyed Itachi tosses his straw-hat to the side and unclasps his high collar, revealing his strikingly composed, yet menacing, countenance, calmly staring at them as the larger man also removes his circular straw-hat. From the pale blue-skinned man's hitai-ate and the sketch in their bingo book, both Kurenai and Anko can guess who the tall man is; a notorious missing-nin from Hidden Mist on every nation's wanted list, only adding to their predicament. Kurenai will count delaying these formidable shinobi until reinforcements arrive as a success.

"I should introduce myself," the taller, drab-skinned man starts. His sharp teeth bare down into a grin as he speaks, "Hoshigaki Kisame. I hope we get along."

"You've got a lot of nerve coming back here," Kurenai tells Itachi, subtly informing Anko that delaying them via conversation is their best tactic.

"Yūhi Kurenai, Mitarashi Anko," Itachi peacefully begins. "I have no intention of killing you. Nevertheless, if you do not step aside, you will die."

"That's rich coming from you," Anko retorts. "Were the women and children you slaughtered in their homes and beds 'in your way' too?"

Kisame lazily points out, "they're trying to stall," before effortlessly smashing the tip of his wrapped long-sword several inches into the concrete sidewalk, creating a small plum of dust. "Itachi, this ain't a reunion. Let's kill em and go."

"So be it," Itachi easily agrees.

Before the pair of missing-nin react, Anko summons snakes to release from her overcoat as Kurenai swirls away from view like evaporating mist. Feeling her genjutsu ensnare Itachi and Kisame, Kurenai materializes out of a tree to stab them with kunai in her hand, ready to stab Itachi in the neck, but from that second to the very next, she sees his red eyes before finding herself in her own snare and bound by her tree. Kurenai bites her lower lip hard enough to draw blood, breaking out of the reverse genjutsu just in time to avoid Itachi's kunai from slashing her neck open

Swiping at Anko's multitude of poisonous snakes, Kisame appears bored. After Kurenai is kicked far out into the river, Anko uses smoke bombs to distract Kisame, but he swipes at her head with his large sword, and in ducking the strong stroke of his blade, Anko summons several dozens of snakes to attack Kisame so she can get to her comrade.

Kurenai is stabilizing herself on the river when she hears behind her, "that's what's expected from you, Kurenai." She barely turns to the Uchiha casually standing behind her as he continues. "But-" Only to be interrupted by a familiar voice.

"But this is as far as it goes," Kakashi voices from behind Itachi.

Anko's snakes did nothing to Kisame as he voices, "Suiton: Suikōdan no Jutsu," and from the wide river beside them, a fast swirling spear of water in the shape of a shark whirls out like a rapid tornado. With Itachi behind Kurenai, she can't stop Kisame's attack on her best friend, however, she trusts Kakashi's capabilities completely. Mirroring the thin, tree-cutting tornado of water, a second Kakashi's Water Shark Bomb collides head-first into the Kisame's, violently shattering apart with the strength of a fifty-foot wave hitting rocks.

Kisame smiles as a clone of Kakashi walks beside Anko and identifies, "copy Ninja Hatake Kakashi. I heard you and Zabuza had it out a few months back; even lost his sword." Kakashi simply hums, bringing a smirk to Kisame's bluish face before confessing, "now here's someone who might actually make this worth it."

Regardless of the kunai the real Kakashi has near Itachi's neck, the Uchiha prodigy orders, "stop, Kisame." The large bluish-skinned man hums curiously to which Itachi explains, "your method of combat isn't efficient here. If you go at it with that man, it won't end without cost. And if we spend too much time here, more shinobi will arrive."

Though still under threat, Kurenai is curious to hear Kakashi ask, "what are you after, Itachi?" The clone of Kakashi beside Anko dispels as the real Jōnin asks, "or should I say who."

In a dozen nanoseconds, Kurenai felt an elevation of chakra with combined alertness, Itachi slipping out four shuriken between the fingers of his right hand, and Kakashi leaping back as four drills made of river-water try to skewer the elite Jōnin. Before the second ends, Kakashi erects a barrier made of water, spraying out a blinding mist of water as liquid spears clash against a liquid shield.

Kurenai might find Kakashi's ability to teach lacking, but as a combat specialist, his talent is far beyond herself or Anko. She isn't even surprised when Itachi compliments his analytical skill as, "great," only for a clone of Itachi to stab Kakashi in the back. Kurenai couldn't even register concern before Kakashi phases into the water clone he is, then splashes to the river they're standing on. The kunai, however, flows toward Kurenai just underneath the water's surface.

Voicing, "nice," Kurenai takes the sharp weapon from Kakashi and is close enough to Itachi to inflict a decent amount of damage, however, mid lunge, Kakashi bursts through the river surface, his shoulder hitting her gut as he wraps an arm around her to leap away. She barely understood when he yelled, "wait, Kurenai!" just before the Itachi nearest them explodes powerfully, rapidly heating and expanding the air around them to a blunt, concussive shockwave that rocks their skull and soft organs.

"Kurenai! Kakashi!" Anko yells before jumping into the wave of heated water and misty air.

With the force of the blast all but evaporated, water rains down on Anko, Kurenai, and a heavily breathing Kakashi. Kurenai could detect the scent of burned clothing coming from her Jōnin captain's back, and despite her ringing headache, she knows he took the worst of the force for her. With the rain and mist gone, Itachi is visible again, but his stoic presence seems far more imposing.

"Stay on your toes," Kakashi orders them. "This guy made ANBU Black Ops chief at thirteen."

"He's tough," Anko hastily returns. "We know."

"No," Kakashi returns. "You don't. We've barely seen what he can do."

"For a person not born an Uchiha," Itachi voices, eying Kakashi's guarded figure. "You utilize the Sharingan well. But without the body to match, you lack the physical requirements, and that isn't something you can copy, Kakashi." The way Itachi closes his eyes as he asks, "do you know why the Uchiha clan is so feared?" It felt ominous to Kurenai as the calm shinobi adds, "I'll show you what the Sharingan is capable of when it's wielded by a true heir of the bloodline."

Tensing, Kakashi uncharacteristically yells, "close your eyes!" Though the kunoichi couldn't help but wonder about their defensive capability against strong shinobi like Itachi and Kisame without their sight, Anko and Kurenai were both certain this was best for their survival and followed his command. "Listen up, whatever happens, don't look into his eyes. If you meet his gaze, you're finished."

"Your abilities always impress," Itachi voices. "They might even be enough to resist the Mangekyo Sharingan. But your eye can't defend against my Tsukuyomi."

Kurenai hears a faint grunt from Kakashi and a second later, he suddenly drops to one knee and breathing raggedly. Unable to see anything but darkness, Kurenai senses Kakashi's struggle to keep above the river's surface and wonders about his distorted chakra flow.

"Kakashi," Anko calls with closed eyes. "Talk to us. Are you alright?"

"Only someone with a blood-limit as strong as the Sharingan can possibly defeat me," Itachi's voice pierces through their ears.

"Mnn," Kisame hums, humorously enjoying the horribly overcome Konoha shinobi. "After receiving that, it's impressive he's still conscious."

Gasping loudly, Kakashi laboriously remarks, "you… you're… after… Naruto… and… there are… more of you… searching… for Jinchūriki… A group called… Akatsuki."

Without shock or awe, Itachi immediately orders, "Kisame, I'll take Kakashi. You erase the other two."

Kurenai can hear the small splash of water under Kisame's feet as the large force sprints forward without hesitation. Her ears and chakra can sense the taller man moving on them, but the mode of attack is hazy and they had less than a second to confidently respond. Lowering her stance as she hears the strain of his sword being wound back, Kurenai suddenly hears, "Konoha Daisenpū!"

Kisame is kicked back with the strong leg in all of Konoha before Might Guy land on the rushing river, splashing with swirling water reaching his height.

Kisame is happily taken by the speed the man caught him in and the force of the kick as he asks, "and who do we have here?"

With his bobbed cut and tight green onesie, he strikes a pose and proudly answers back, "the Leaf village's fiercest beast of battle, Might Guy!"

"…How'd I get kicked by the village idiot?"

"Don't underestimate him," Itachi warns.

"You two, open your eyes," Guy orders the kunoichi.

"But-"

Anko is interrupted when Guy explains, "I know it'll be difficult, but predict his movements by focusing on his feet. As long as you don't look directly into his eyes, you'll be fine."

Kurenai truly wonders if she can open her eyes when Kakashi falls forward and begins sinking into the river. To her immense shock, Guy turns his back on the enemy to lift the sinking Kakashi out of the water. Hearing Kisame voice to his Uchiha partner, "we can't leave without Kakashi," Guy passes the unconscious Kakashi to Anko and orders her to get him to safety.

"I know," Itachi replies, ordering, "kill him quick," before Kisame immediately rushes Guy, lowering Samehada to slice upward. As Guy and Kisame meet head-on in a booming sound of fist meeting fist, Itachi is rushing toward them. Unable to look past his ankles, Kurenai's ears pick up a metallic edge cutting through the air and only barely manages to track and deflect the kunai to her heart. A flash of blinding white followed by stars haze her vision when she's suddenly kicked in the face. Absent thought, Kurenai feels her training deep in her bones and her muscles take over and move with that purpose.

Limberly rolling back with the momentum of the kick, Kurenai ignores the sting of pain to recover her footing and keep some distance between herself and her enemy. Periodically calling, 'Kai,' in her mind to disrupt her chakra flow and cancel any genjutsu that may be on her. Only then does she notice that the person who kicked her was Anko, not Itachi, and whilst holding Kakashi around his waist with her left arm, her sister has yet to repel the genjutsu on her. Kurenai isn't even sure when he put them under genjutsu as she begins defending herself from Anko's iron snakes and fire-coated shuriken.

While dodging each serpent strike and deflecting repeated shuriken, Kurenai manages to sneak in close to cancel the illusion only to notice Anko's normally pupil-less brown eyes have the Sharingan in them. In that speck of time, Kurenai knew shutting her eyes and biting her lip to disrupt her chakra flow would leave her open for what could be a critical strike, but she also knew—instinctively—that it was her only hope of survival. Canceling the chakra completely to her feet before the rest of her body, Kurenai feels the sharpened edge of metal brutally bite into her left trapezius muscle as her body sinks into the river's water. The cold water immediately amplifies the heat of the hemorrhaging wound biting from the left shoulder up her neck and jaw.

Reallocating the sensory receptors of the gnawing pain, Kurenai swims up to the surface in time to witness Itachi stab Anko in the back. Kurenai felt the air kick out of her lungs and time slow to a standstill as dark blood escapes out the back of Anko's brown coat. Unable to even speak, Kurenai kicks high to desperately run out of the running water, praying to Kami the wound wasn't fatal or crippling. Running toward her falling friend, Kurenai's hands flips through a series of seals before she disappears in swirling flower petals.

Itachi seems to counter her genjutsu and throw Anko's body into the tornado of petals before a blur of hand seals and a call of, "Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu."

Kurenai catches Anko as a ten-foot-tall ball of flames rockets toward them and her mind instinctively knows the options despite a fraction of a second of thought. 'Earth-style barrier on water won't work. My water style won't stop or deflect that degree of torrent fire. Death is certain if I don't leave Anko,' yet Kurenai only clutches her friend tighter, trying to use her chakra as best she can to dive deep enough in the water to avoid. In a second filled with nothing but fire, the river water boils, steams, and evaporates, and in the painful heat, whereupon her eyes feel like sand, her vision filled with flaming red, like a man burning. Only, the white-hot death she was expecting didn't come.

The great cataract of steel-melting fire is spread in all directions, like the tail of a peacock, with Naruto cloaked in a densely red chakra at the center, stopping the flame with a large red hand. For nearly ten full seconds, the intense heat suffocates the air around them so Kurenai couldn't even breathe until finally, Itachi halts his flame power. The atmosphere around them seemed darker than the day, steam and heat emanating from the cooling river water, and three red chakra tails were curling and flowing lethargically from Naruto's lower back.

Without even turning to her, a calmly irate Naruto sternly informs Kurenai, "I've been looking for you all day."

NARUTO CLONE I

After Boss Naruto created a team of clones to inform Kurenai, Ino, Sakura, Karin, Kakashi, Iruka, and Haku that he'll be out of the village for a couple of days, Clone Naruto has been searching for his mark: Kurenai. Except for his clone brother who's supposed to talk to Sakura and Ino, all the other clones have already disappeared. He was debating leaving a note for her at her house when he hears the loud clap of a distant shock wave coming from Kaizen river. Curious enough to check it out, Clone Naruto lands on the top of a tree near the streaming body of water and is surprised to see Rock Lee's sensei fiercely fighting a big guy swinging a long sword.

The bluish man only stood out to Naruto because he wore a black traveling cloak with red clouds on them, reminding him of, "Akatsuki," he gasps. Whipping his head left and right, he wondered if he had enough time to get into sage mode when he noticed the very familiar ebony hair of a woman a dozen yards farther down the river being stabbed near her neck. His clone heart stopped. Kurenai getting stabbed stopped the earth as far as he's concerned. She disappeared under the water, blood mixing with the flowing river, and for the briefest of moments, Naruto believed with his whole being she was dead. As if stricken, the panic in him was a blaring alarm Kurama couldn't ignore.

In the dark and dank seal, Kurama's growly voice orders him to, 'take it.' Though his tone is as rough and rude as ever, he waits on a frozen Naruto, still staring. 'She's going to die if you don't get down there,' Kurama groans. 'Take my chakra… save our mate.'

Nodding, Naruto didn't need to specify how many tails. He wanted it all but he couldn't wait. Feeling the tremendous power coursing from his core through his chakra network and coat his muscles and tendons with boundless energy, Naruto shunshin to the thick mast of the tree before kicking against the wood hard enough to compress the molecules and leave fire tracks burning.

In the split second it takes him to land in front of the torrent of a grand fireball, he had four tails and a large red chakra hands forbidding death from taking Kurenai. Eventually, the fire ceases, leaving steam, ominous darkness, and an irate Naruto glaring into Sharingan eyes as he verbalizes, "I've been looking for you all day."

Across from Naruto, Itachi's red eyes stare calmly into Naruto's red eyes, and Naruto's surprised by how clear his mind is. He can feel more power than he's ever felt before, but the anger and hatred are diminished a great deal. It was as if Kurama and Naruto both wanted the same thing; to never let Kurenai die.

Smelling the blood hemorrhaging from Kurenai's wound, Naruto asks without looking, "…you alright?"

"I'll live," Kurenai huffs, checking Anko's pulse and is relieved to feel a pulse.

Focusing on the Uchiha in front of him, Naruto asserts, "you're Sasuke's brother, Itachi."

"I am," Itachi slowly answers. "And you're Uzumaki Naruto." Tilting his head, as if sensing an incoming force, Itachi lifts Kakashi out of the water and comfortably sets him on his shoulder. "For Kakashi's sake, I'm going to need you to come with us, Naruto." Leaping out of the river, Itachi calls for his partner as he lands on the railing of the pathway then takes off, sprinting away at full speed. At the same time, Naruto quickly creates a clone to take care of Kurenai and Anko before he chases after Itachi.

The village is whirling by as the shinobi swiftly cut the wind running on the street, then branch to branch and finally over rooftop. Naruto can't help but be impressed by Itachi's speed from building to building whilst carrying Kakashi on his shoulder, but as they leap to rooftops, four-tailed Naruto gradually narrows the gap. He's three body-lengths away and ready to kick off faster when his body vibrates in blaring warning and he instinctively dodges Kisame's powerful sword swipe.

In the process of avoiding the massive sword, he suddenly feels most of his and Kurama's chakra disappear from within him, forcing him to lose most of his red chakra shroud and bestial appearance. Though he still had a shroud, he lost all four of his tails and is shocked by the sudden loss in strength as Kisame moves beside Itachi. They both then truly speed away.

Naruto keeps his pace up as best he can while drawing more of Kurama's chakra to boost his speed. As Naruto tries to catch up, other Chūnin or Jōnin join the chase and quickly fail at stopping them. More and more Konoha shinobi try to apprehend them but with Kisame's chakra-sucking Samehada and Itachi's awareness-warping Sharingan, it's nearly impossible. As the bodies of his fellow ninjas drop off with wounds or disorientation, Naruto feels a greater urge to stop them before they kill anyone.

Naruto is joined by Guy-sensei and the exuberant man quickly explains, "let them slow them down."

"But they're only going to get hurt," Naruto protests.

"They know that," Guy sternly returns. "But they are capable of slowing them down without suffering serious injuries so other teams ahead can set up traps."

Wondering what kind of traps could stop Itachi and Kisame, Naruto admits, "traps aren't going to work against them."

As if accepting that as the likely reality, Guy answers, "we have to believe in our teams, Naruto-kun."

With that, the pair focus on keeping pace while Konoha shinobi try to slow Akatsuki down. Itachi and Kisame scale the wall of Konoha's border before leaping over it and to the forest beyond. Naruto and Guy follow them over the large barrier and into the wide woodlands. In the two hours that Naruto and Guy give constant chase, Guy explains how proficient Itachi's Sharingan is, which is why they've avoided nearly all of the traps.

"Listen carefully," Guy voices as the last Konoha shinobi team breaks off. "It won't be long now before we catch up. While it pains me to risk your youthful future, under no circumstances must we allow them to take Kakashi, but nor can I fend off enemies like this and recover Kakashi. I will engage both Itachi and Kisame, and when you see an opening, grab Kakashi and run." Leaping from tall forest branch to branch, Naruto tries to protest when the eccentric Jōnin cuts him off. "Don't look back and don't worry about me. As Konoha's Sublime Beast, I was born for this!"

"Ne, Guy-sensei," Naruto calls as they close the distance with Akatsuki. "I think we can take them on together-"

"That's noble of you to say," Guy asserts as he flexes his fingers and prepares for the battle ahead. "Don't worry. I will make sure you can escape with Kakashi; whatever it takes." Turning his head to look at Naruto, Guy gently asks, "when next you see Lee-kun… if you can meet with him every once in a while, I think that would be nice."

"Guy-sensei! I'm just a clone," Naruto declares. "You should be the one to take Kakashi-sensei when you get a chance." Feeling less than a couple of minutes from their targets, Naruto calls, "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," for a single clone to pop into existence and drop to the forest floor.

"Conserve your chakra-"

"We're almost on them," Naruto interjects, wondering which plan the clone he made will decide to do. Either way, he'll be ready for him.

Guy then warns Naruto, "at the most, we won't see any backup for twenty to thirty minutes."

Naruto simply nods and the Konoha shinobi land in a small clearing surrounded by tall redwoods and sequoias. The pair of Akatsuki are a dozen yards away with Kakashi's unconscious form on the grassy floor beside Itachi. Guy ignores the Sharingan eyes and Naruto relies on Kurama to dispel any genjutsu placed on him.

"Finally," Kisame voices. "It's infuriating being forced to run from weaklings. You ask too much of me Itachi."

Itachi hums to his partner as Guy demands, "if you're after Kakashi's Sharingan, did you need to take him? Wouldn't it have been easier to simply take the eye?"

Naruto hadn't thought of why they would be interested in Kakashi but thinking of the prank they could pull on them, Naruto slaps his forehead as he calls out, "ah! They're after me, not Kakashi-sensei. They knew I'd follow if they took them."

Flickering his gaze on Naruto a moment, Guy then asks the enemy, "could it be you were after Naruto-kun this entire time?"

"While we plan on interrogating Kakashi-senpai," Itachi begins to muse. "You are correct. Naruto-kun is indeed our primary objective."

Not expecting Guy's tactical duplicity, he acts concerned as he yells to the young blond, "Naruto, I'll hold them off while you run!"

Taking a step forward, the chakra covered Naruto calls out to Itachi, "I know for a fact you're one of the toughest ninjas ever. It's why I've been training like crazy for the past seven months… for this moment."

"Oohhh, a whole seven months," Kisame mocks with a chuckle.

Stoic as ever, Itachi asks, "and why's that?"

However, Kisame groans and gripes, "enough talk," taking steps forward with his hungry sword comfortably on his shoulder. "Let's kill the weird one and cut the brat's legs off. It'll be easier to carry him that way."

With Kakashi's life at stake on the soft forest floor, silence descends on the clearing for several tense moments before Naruto's hand reaches behind him before punching his fist forward, sending a large red shroud of chakra at Kisame. The bluish-skinned man expectedly made it disappear with his chakra consuming sword, leaving behind the bundle of exploding tags in the air, sizzling before exploding violently.

Itachi and Kisame are separated when they leap away with the concussive shock wave and Naruto yells to Guy, "I've got Itachi," before leaping after the Uchiha.

While Kisame takes advantage of Guy's momentary distraction, Naruto follows Itachi through the trees before spotting him in a clearing waiting patiently for him. Thinking of Naru-nii's strategy, Naruto reminds Kurama, 'remember to feed your chakra into mine to cancel out his genjutsu.'

'He's tried four times already,' Kurama replies. 'I doubt he'll use genjutsu to overtake you.'

"It appears you've gained some mastery over your Tailed Beast," Itachi acknowledges.

With everything he knows of the future, Naruto replies, "we have to talk."

"We will," the raven-haired shinobi voices as he confidently advances. "Once I've captured you-"

"I know you killed your clan to stop them from rebelling," Naruto loudly interjects, and Itachi's eyes narrow as he stops walking. He's as still as a statue as Naruto continues calling out, "I know you didn't even hate your family, but you went that far just to keep the peace. And if we don't talk right now, I'm going to tell Sasuke everyth-"

Itachi blitz's Naruto, clearing the distance as he rockets six shuriken, two directly at Naruto, two wider so the final two can ricochet off and hit Naruto from the side. Naruto's red chakra tail swipes the shuriken to the side as Itachi's speed brings him within inches of Naruto, rapid-firing crisp punches to the stomach, solar plexus, and chest before a wincing Naruto can even begin dodging and blocking the strike to his neck and jaw.

When Naruto's single tail swipes at Itachi's feet, the proficient shinobi back-flips away before calmly relaying, "you shouldn't speak so freely."

Looking around, Naruto comments, "it's just us-"

"That you can see," Itachi interjects. He pauses as if he wants to say more, but instead informs, "if you truly wish to talk, defeating me is the only way."

With no words left to be shared, Itachi and Naruto rush each other. It's fairly evident to Naruto that Itachi is not only fast enough to keep up, but skilled enough to predict his chakra's random attacks as well. They're a blur of millisecond punches, kicks, slips, blocks, and counters with Itachi serving more than he receives. And worse, it doesn't even seem as if Itachi is struggling. No matter what Naruto did, Itachi could evade or counter and his face isn't unlike Samui's, empty of intent.

It's like when he'd spar against Sasuke or Hinata. Their taijutsu style is like they're playing chess and he's playing checkers. Like them, Itachi's swift moves were so clean, practiced, and filled with feints. Naruto was more of a brawler, but after Kurenai entered his life and beat into him to think more, he slowly began to realize often he fell for traps; how much there is to learn. He studied more with his eyes than he had before, and like pranks, he knows there's a story hidden even when fists are talking, and it's clear Itachi is a master.

Itachi is a master, but Naruto doesn't give up. He's struck in the face with palms or kneed in the stomach but he only invigorates him to reach for more—more strength, speed, insight—to beat the obstacle in his way. Little by little, Naruto was understanding that image of Itachi, learning a frame of his self, allowing him to see timing. Naruto was still being pummeled, but at least he was starting to realize what was a feint and what was a strike.

Catching his elbow meant for his nose, the pause of surprise Itachi noted allowed Naruto enough time to plant his chakra mark and grip him before his chakra tail tries to swipe at his head from behind. Itachi ducks his head forward before Naruto knees him in the face. Though Itachi catches the knee with his hand, the impact travels through. Naruto doesn't let up. He attacks ferociously, following a punch with a series of punches and kicks like a spinning top. Blurringly fast, Itachi can dodge three before he's hit with the fourth and sent flying.

It's the first clean hit Naruto landed and he's about to pour on the offense when he barely hears a whooshing and dodges a large blunt object from taking his head clean off. Though he dodged the large sword, Naruto feels incredibly drained. As Kisame lands a couple dozen yards ahead, near enough to Itachi, not only is his tail gone but so is his chakra shroud. As Itachi slowly gets to his feet, Naruto's body feels much heavier, he's exhausted, sweating, and aching.

After ciphering most of Naruto's chakra, Kisame smiles smugly while setting his larger sword comfortably on his shoulder as he bemoans, "that fucking weirdo took off with Kakashi, but we still got what we came for." As Itachi calmly walks beside his partner, the taller man asks a heaving Naruto, "how's it feel to be abandoned by your comrade?"

"Hehe," Naruto heaves, happy that at least Guy got Kakashi back. "I'm never alone-" Naruto blinks into flat surprise to suddenly see himself standing next to Itachi with a large Rasengan in hand.

It was so instantaneous, Itachi or Kisame don't notice until the clone voices, "ain't that the truth," right before he slams an easily dispersible Rasengan right into Itachi's side. The clone wasn't trying to kill him, but Naru-nii warned him, 'you can't hold back against someone as strong as Itachi,' and Naruto didn't; at least not until the Rasengan connected a second after he appeared next to Itachi. When Naruto felt the resistance from contact, he allowed the spinning sphere of chakra to easily unravel, and like attaching a rocket to the Uchiha, Itachi flew eighty feet like he was a propeller shot out of a canon, rotating from his abdomen with his limbs flailing from the centrifugal force until he hit the soft grass, rolling another twenty feet before finally sliding to a stop.

One clone drained of Kurama's chakra and the other losing the last bit of Sage chakra, the Narutos were smiling through huffing exhaustion. After the two seconds it takes for Kisame to realize a clone somehow appeared beside them and blasted his partner a hundred feet away passes, he's already swiping his monstrous sword across the clone's chest, forcibly dispersing him from existence. Not only does Boss Naruto receive the memories of the dispelled clone, struggling traveling through the disorienting and suffocating tunnel of warped reality, but so do the clones.

They're all fed memories of the clone entering sage mode and deciding on attempting Hiraishin. Activating the Fūin-Ninjutsu, the entire environment freezes before warping like a carnival mirror completely around him. In the cylinder of stretched out forest scenery, he couldn't move a muscle but for the chakra he expels from his hands and feet. The memories tell of a nearly hour-long odyssey trying to push his way through the surreal tunnel toward the marker at the end, nearly dying several times when he'd get too close to the wall. Making it to the other end nearly drained him of all his chakra, but when he did manage, the second before the jutsu's end, when the forest expanded back to its normal reality, he could see a frozen Itachi, Kisame, and himself in the distance. He felt like he could do anything in that frozen time, and formed a Rasengan with the last bit of his strength.

Crouched, heaving, and dead-tired in front of a tall and irate Kisame, Clone Naruto receives a cache of quick memories from Boss Naruto saying, 'try to bring Itachi where I am and I'll set up a room to talk,' and it made him chuckle and cough.

While staring at the much larger and angry Kisame menacingly approach him, all Clone Naruto can think is, 'hehe, stop asking for the impossible.' It's also a message for the two clones still in Konoha to talk to Hinata about tenketsu training as quickly as possible.

Feeling drained of much chakra while Kisame closes in, Naruto couldn't think of how to nab Itachi and escape without Kisame interfering. He was ready to pop in a cloud of smoke at any moment, but instead stands straighter, drawing out his chakra blade and ready to brawl it out.

"I don't know how you managed to pull one over on him," Kisame growls. "But it won't work on me."

Kisame brings down the far-reaching and deadly Samehada to meet Naruto's knuckle blade, and though he was expecting to dispel, an ear-piercing, bitingly cold pressure jets overhead, striking Kisame square in the chest. Smaller laser-straight jets of water spread out in all directions depending upon the ricochet off his body as he's forcefully shoved destructively through large chunks of hard earth. As Naruto is blasted back from the shock wave alone, the amount of force in the thin stream of highly pressured water pushes the missing-nin even farther than Itachi.

With enough water to fill a small lake slowly seeping into the earth around Naruto, he wonders about the Suton attack moments before a navy-blue clad woman with long auburn hair lands into the ankle-deep water right beside him.

"Naruto-dono," Mei's voice sweetly greets him. "It's been too long." As he gets up off the ankle-deep flooded forest floor, she adds, "I hope you've not been avoiding me."

Dead on his feet, Naruto half-chuckles, "as if," while breathing heavily, then adding, "that's not going to… stop him."

"Of course not," Mei agrees, returning her attention on the distant threat. "Hoshigaki Kisame is one of the strongest shinobi out of the Mist, on my level or even stronger depending on how we fight. Speaking of which," she adds before whirling through a series of hand-seals then raising one hand above her head. It takes no more than seven seconds for a thick mist to rise from the flooded forest floor and expand a mile in every direction.

With everything a misty white and gray, even Mei's voice seems to come from nowhere specific as she remarks, "I'd love to hear how you ended up squaring off against another of the Seven Swordsman."

Barely seeing her silhouette he warily answers, "he works for a group… called Akatsuki. They're trying to… capture me."

"I've heard of them," she relays. "A powerful group of unsavory S-Rank missing-nin for hire. Why are they after you?"

Chuckling, he answers, "I'ma popular guy… I guess."

"I'd say so," Mei warmly hums.

Needing more energy if he's ever going to snatch Itachi, Naruto asks Mei, "think you can… distract him… for three minutes?"

"For?"

"I gotta get… Itachi… to the Boss…"

"…Uchiha Itachi," she repeats mostly for herself before asking, "who's this Boss of yours?"

"I'm just a clone," he confesses.

Swiveling her head so the silhouette of her hair whirls, she repeats, "a clone? Fighting Kisame?" before lightly laughing. "You really are a surprising ninja," she adds mirthfully before leaping away to battle her countryman.

Naruto sits cross-legged in the thick mist and despite the vibrations he feels in the ground, the far off cracking of tree bark, and slicing of the air either by water or sword, Naruto remains focused on gather natural energy. What made it take longer than usual was Kurama.

'You should just use my chakra,' the large orange fox growls from behind the gate.

'You know I can't,' a seated Naruto voices on the other side of the gate in the large room. 'Not with Kisame's sword sucking out a ton of your chakra. He can take three tails in one swipe!'

'You need to fight smarter,' Kurama retorts, standing as he becomes more irritated. 'Take more of my chakra.'

Standing himself, Naruto whirls around and asks his furry friend, 'why can't you just combine your chakra with my sage chakra-'

'We don't need that frog grease,' Kurama interrupts, baring a long jaw of teeth.

'They're toads and it's not toad grease,' Naruto defends. 'And it's natural energy. I thought you like nature.'

Kurama simply yells back, 'I'm more than enough to handle anything! You just need to rip this wretched seal off!'

'Calm down,' Naruto returns. 'Talk to the Boss about the seal, not me. Besides, in this mist, I need the sensing boost.'

'Honestly, you annoy me to no end,' Kurama growls. Settling with his back to the golden gate, he yells, 'Fine! Use that toad piss! See if I ever help you again!'

Sighing, Naruto tells him, 'the Boss is going to have a serious talk with you,' before sitting back down.

'Hmmph,' Kurama sounds

It takes a minute longer than he wanted but Naruto is finally able to enter sage mode, and even in the dense vision-impairing mist, he can sense precisely where Itachi, Kisame, and Mei are. He could tell she wasn't engaging Kisame directly and something about the mist Mei used felt different. Not only does it feel heavy, but it burns to keep his eyes open and the sulfur smell is incredibly disorienting. Despite the sensory handicap, a chakra-covered Kisame was barreling through whole trees, shooting out large Suton attacks, dissecting all the vegetation in his warpath, and slashing at anything with reckless abandon in pursuit of an elusive Mei.

As silently as possible, Naruto sloshes through the flooded floor under the cover of the thick fog. Their Suton attacks only add to the rising water level as he covertly makes his way toward Itachi's unconscious body, all the while worried an unconscious Itachi is face-first in the water. As he can't see trees, shrubs, or branches a second before it appears, it takes several minutes to reach the Uchiha, but when he does, he's relieved the upper-half of his body landed on bushes, catching his cloak and keeping his nose and mouth above the heavily flooded floor.

Looking the body over, Naruto is worried about the blood hemorrhaging from his stomach but can't do anything about it at the moment. Lowering Itachi's hitai-ate over his eyes for precaution, Naruto ties his hands up before lifting him on his shoulder and heading toward the Boss's direction.

Walking over water through thick fog, Naruto is suddenly elevated along with the water, as if all the water in the area is being pulled toward Kisame's position. Patches of the fog are swallowed up by the growing globule of water and the forest begins to return to a clearer view. Naruto holds his breath when he's engulfed as he and Itachi are taken into the immense globe of water. The slowly rising body of water is full of grass, leaves, dirt, bugs, and branches as they move above the treetops. Naruto can nearly see Kisame two stadiums away staring Mei down.

Kisame turns to Naruto, smiling manically, and the blond realizes he's not getting away without a fight. Floating in the water, he was ready to use his Toad-kata to push out of the floating lake in the sky and back down to the forest below them. He swims away with the hemorrhaging Itachi on his shoulder, however, the water seems to move farther away from Naruto the closer Kisame gets to him. Naruto wonders why the floating lake is moving when both Kisame and Naruto sense a sudden shift in the water.

Naruto and Kisame turn to Mei, with her Ox hand seal to her chest and the number of bubbles growing exponentially around her. Whatever she's doing Naruto can feel how much lighter it makes the water, and like the water growing in radius of Kisame, Mei's bubbles grow radially around her, eating up Kisame's Suton technique. Naruto is able to kick away with his sage chakra as the water dissipates around him and he's finally able to breathe.

In seconds, Mei creates a water clone and both of them expel different color mist from their mouths. As Kisame runs toward Naruto, the fog swallows miles of the forest in less than a minute, allowing Naruto to evade Kisame's approach behind trees and mist. With his sage senses, Naruto accurately navigates away from Kisame, and many minutes later, the real Mei lands next to him as her clone continues to hinder Kisame. Mei easily leads Naruto out of the dense fog and into more forest.

Though it isn't the time, Naruto entertains the sight of a wet and glistening Mei with her darker red hair clinging to her like her doused darker blue dress longer than he should. When she smirks at him, Naruto clears his throat and looks away. As they sprint toward the Boss's direction, he senses Mei's clone use an attack that sends Kisame sprinting in the opposite direction, prompting him to ask, "what'd you do?"

"I mixed a very strong acid into the mist," she answers from beside him, slowing down as his sage chakra finally runs out. "Not that it'd stop someone like him for long, but beating him wasn't the goal was it?"

Without sage chakra, Naruto needs more effort carrying Itachi, however, feeling a warmer wetness on his shoulder, Naruto informs Mei, "we need to stop somewhere soon so I can heal him with one of my tags."

Turning to the blood streaming down Naruto's shoulder, Mei nods before leading them to a nearby stream. As Naruto sets Itachi down, Mei takes out a roll of gauze from her pouch as she suggests, "let's patch him up quick or the blood'll lead Kisame straight to us."

Mei quickly cleans Itachi's large abdominal wound while Naruto summons a clone, leaving him bone tired and ready to pop at any moment. Waiting for his clone to summon some of Kurama's chakra to heal Itachi takes longer than expected, leading a curious Mei to ask, "what are we waiting for?"

Eying his clone in concern, an exhausted Naruto asks, "what's up?"

Shaking his head in growing frustration, the clone explains, "he doesn't want to."

Exhaling in irritation, Naruto grumbles, "that bratty orange furball… Alright. Let the boss… deal with him."

When the clone pops, Naruto falls lazily on the sand while Mei bandages Itachi. She asks, "what's going on?"

Scoffing softly, he chuckles, "we're having some… major teamwork problems." With a sigh, Naruto sits up and crosses his legs, preparing to draw in natural energy once again. His blue eyes connecting with her green ones, Naruto asks Mei, "can you take him… and head west… for five hours? I promise, I'll catch up."

"If you don't, Kisame will," Mei warns, tying the gauze around Itachi's stomach tightly. "And I'll be honest with you. Handsome or not, I don't have any allegiance to an Uchiha."

"I'll catch up… no matter what," Naruto huffs before settling in and gathering natural energy to mix in with his own spirit energy.

Lifting the tightly bound Itachi over her shoulder, Mei voices under her breath, "I've heard that before," before leaping onto the nearest tree branch heading west.

NARUTO CLONE II & III

Of the last two clones in Konoha, one was tasked with talking to Ino, and the other was in the hospital waiting for any word of Kurenai or Anko's condition. However, after a clone brother barely managed to avoid destroying itself pushing through the surreal tunnel of stretched out oily light and colors, and land a blunt-force Rasengan to Itachi's stomach, Bossman Naruto messaged them to talk with Hinata right away. They both knew that fast training was needed more than waiting for Kurenai or Ino, so after leaving notes, they immediately rush to the Hyūga compound. Being of one mind more often than not, they manage to meet in the same place; the roof of old man Huang's Eye clinic.

"So how should we do this," one clone voices as they both scout the compound of a clan born with the best inherent surveillance system in the village. "Unless you think they'll just let us talk with Hinata if we ask nicely."

"We can't risk it," the other Naruto reasons. "A distraction probably gives us a better chance."

Nodding, the other Naruto adds, "we should get in sage mode while we can."

Sitting on the stone roof cross-legged, both Narutos take nearly three minutes to enter sage mode before one summons Gama and hops on the back of the large orange toad, and the other leaps to the street below to begin infiltrating the compound in search of Hinata. With Naruto stuck firmly on Gama's back, the elephant-sized amphibian leaps high into the air, crossing the two-block gap between themselves and the perimeter of the compound. Red coat flapping int the air, Naruto and Gama land with a heavy thud, cracking a three-foot radius on the earth below them and shocking nearly all of the Hyūga clan members around them.

Taking in a deep breath, Naruto yells at the top of his enhanced lungs, "I demand to speak Hyūga Hiashi!" Without giving the shock clansmen time to react, Naruto and Gama leap high in the air before landing inside their perimeter and repeating the same demand. The kids would run up to him only to be taken away by their parents as the adults run out to meet Naruto. Many of the Hyūga try to reason with him, and when they're unable to, they only call for more support, drawing attention away from the rear wall as all eyes focus on the chaos Naruto is creating in the front.

Scaling the wall and sneaking around edifices, Naruto slowly eliminates one chakra signature after another until he finally finds Hinata's familiar chakra in the center of the main mansion. Naruto moves around distracted clansmen and closer to Hinata. He's looking between the vent or basement of the mansion when he hears a voice from around the corner.

"Naruto," a soft voice says as Neji steps into view.

"Hey… Neji," Naruto tries to cheerfully say. Even if he's the only blond in the compound, he tries to appear like he belongs as he clears his throat and casually says, "it's good to see you… Uh, great fight with Hinata! That was pretty epic to watch. You haven't seen her by any chance?"

Just as casually, almost humored, Neji asks, "why do you need to see Hinata so badly you'd cause a distraction and use your sage arts?"

Nervously rubbing his eyebrows in an attempt to cover the reddish-orange pigmentation around his eyes, Naruto chuckles as he answers, "uh, well… well, truthfully, I was hoping she could give me a bit of training-"

"Chakra control," Neji interrupts, making Naruto raise his eyebrows. "Emitting a flow of chakra through all your tenketsus. Secret training that allows a Hyūga to perform our clan's secret technique, Hakkeshō Kaiten."

Caught unawares, Naruto bemoans, "uuuhh… I didn't know it was secret, and more to the point, I'm not trying to learn that technique. I just need to be able to push chakra out of my tenketsus so I can move around-"

"Swim," Neji interrupts again.

"Uh?"

Crossing his arms and leaning against the wall, Neji explains, "Hinata-sama confided in me your request to help you with your chakra control." Looking at Naruto he adds, "and as she's in no condition to help you train… because of me, I will help you in her stead."

With wide gold eyes, Naruto asks, "really?"

Nodding, he quickly reminds the blond, "the first stage of chakra control is climbing a tree without using your hands. The second is walking on water without falling in. The third is underwater swimming without using your limbs."

Leaning closer in keen interest, he asks, "are you serious?"

Nodding, Neji elaborates, "as difficult as it is, expelling chakra from our feet or hands comes much more naturally to any ninja than expelling it from the neck; we have evolution to thank for that. For shinobi starting their training to expel chakra from all their tenketsus, it's best to think of your knees and elbows like your hands and feet, and try to expel chakra from there while underwater. Once you master knees and elbows it becomes easier trying to expel chakra from the rest of the leg or arm. Then comes the body, starting with the shoulders, then hips, abdomen, and lastly, the head, as it's the hardest tenketsu to feel."

"Whoa," Naruto gasps before quickly asking, "can you show me? This is really important. I'm talking life and death!"

Curious, Neji asks, "explain."

When Neji leads Naruto out of the compound, alerting his distraction he got what he needed, he explains as they head to the nearest river. Following them, the clone tries to figure out how many clones it'll take to learn a level of chakra control well enough to use Hiraishin safely in minutes. The task at hand is only made harder when both Narutos realize Kurama is suddenly not cooperating. It left them with no other option but to train under Neji's supervision with the chakra they had left before disappearing.

NARUTO

Ignoring Sakura's periodic staring and Jiraiya's constant questions as the three continue sprinting, Naruto is only concerned with the progress of the fight when he suddenly learns from his clone that Kurama is refusing to cooperate. With the world of grassy fields and distant trees whirls by him, he recalls from his clone's memory Kurama's exact words. 'You can die with your precious toads for all I care!'

Coming to a sliding halt, dragging a dirt trail behind him, a fed-up Naruto calls out, "that's it!"

Though understanding Kurama's chakra belongs to him, he also knows this has more to do with selfish arrogance than anything else. Additionally, now isn't the time to be so unreasonable. Having Itachi talk to Sasuke is the only way his teammate might abandon his revenge and change for the better.

Running off the side of the road several yards into a grassy field, Naruto sits cross-legged on the floor as Jiraiya happily promotes, "oh Kami please tell me we're resting," even when there's three to four hours of sun left. He adds, "I have so many questions!"

A wide-eyed and blushing Sakura frantically agrees, "same." Standing on Naruto's other side opposite Jiraiya, Sakura confesses, "honestly, I can't go much longer without some answers. I mean, we're talking about the same Kurenai-sensei, right?"

"Not now," Naruto voices as Jiraiya giggles in delight. As the blond closes his eyes, he explains, "I've got an idiot to knock some sense into."

In the large, dark, damp cavern, behind the giant golden gate, Kurama is resting on his hind legs with his back to Naruto. Even when Naruto calls him out, Kurama simply ignores him, grating at his nerves. Feeling this is beyond a conversation using words, Naruto leaps to the cage just beside the seal and rips off the seal over the spiral keyhole, catching Kurama's attention.

'What are you doing,' Kurama asks as Naruto lifts his orange and black jacket, showcasing his own seal. Calling on the Shishu Fūin key ignites a black line traveling down his forearm, painting a sun in his palm and lighting his fingertips aflame.

Slamming his flame-covered fingertips on the seal of his stomach, he tells the large chakra beast, 'isn't it obvious? You're either going to trust me or not,' he calls right before twisting his wrist and unlocking the large creaky gate.

Kurama punches the gate open as he yells, 'I won't!'

Landing on his feet, the room suddenly turns white and boundless, but he ignores that and recalls Naru-nii's instructions. 'It's like Tug of War. Your chakra has to grab hold of his and pull. Remember, you're not taking his chakra away, you're only removing it from his will. I think that's when he realized I was still going to be his friend even if his power wasn't connected to his anger. I think he realized we didn't have to be enemies and we could be friends, cuz I'd never leave him.'

Eying the hill-sized beast before him with his nine tails swaying high behind it, Naruto was determined to get through to Kurama, even if they have to cross fists to do it. Immediately, Kurama builds a Beast Bomb over his jaw before swallowing it and belching an energy blast twice the size of Naruto's whole body.

Finally feeling Sage chakra enter his network and coat his muscles with crackling energy, Naruto creates several clones to forcibly move him out of the way and throw him high over Kurama. From out of his palm, Naruto grows a giant sphere of energy, coming down on the beast as he yells, 'Senpo Cho, Odama Rasengan!'

Kurama blocks the grinding attack with his tails before smacking him back. Each of Kurama's tails try to impale him and only strike air as the blond dodges them, though Kurama's hand crushes him. Still in Sage mode, he didn't disappear as Kurama asks, 'do you really think you can beat me?'

Struggling under the room-sized hand, Naruto responds, 'I wouldn't have… removed the seal… if I didn't.' Naruto smiles before he pops out of existence. Kurama couldn't react before another Sage Naruto grabs a tail, and with enough strength to casually toss a hotel, he swings the beast like a ball on a string, slamming him on his back. The offense continues with an instant Rasenshuriken to Kurama's chest. As the attack explodes into a spinning ball shredding at the highly durable chakra beast, Naruto begins pulling at Kurama's chakra, separating his immense power from his immense anger.

When Kurama feels what's happening, though weakened, he attempts to corrupt Naruto with all the hate he feels; the loneliness, the betrayal, the abandonment, the abuse of being hunted, and never allowed peace. Naruto feels that dark energy enter him, but it's quite familiar as he recalls all the same emotions growing up in Konoha; how he was belittled, ignored, hurt, and hated. Words he's said before in the dead of night, cold and alone, 'why me… What did I do… I hate them… I'll get my revenge… I'll kill them all…'

It's so gripping, Naruto can't think of why he's never killed anyone before. He would be well within his right to retaliate, to get revenge, or even abandon the village. Kakashi ignoring him, Jiraiya abandoning him, Ji-chan doing nothing to stop the abuse, Kurenai attacking him with her fists and stabbing him with a kunai, Ino and Sakura hitting him repeatedly… even when they use him for their own ends or pleasures, it's so obvious they hated him throughout. Naruto is so consumed with rational doubt, he can't help but give ground to the darkness within, asking the great void of emptiness, 'why bother?'

He hadn't expected to hear a reply. 'Naruto,' she said. A thin woman dressed in a green apron over her white dress with fair-skinned, blue eyes, and long red hair stood before him with a gentle smile.

Naruto's mind was so confused, he could barely remember why this woman felt important to him. She seemed familiar and he spoke under his breath, 'long… red hair…'

Combing her hair with her fingers, she muses, 'that's right. Uh, okay, try to guess who I am-'

Naru-nii had told him, and suddenly Naruto feels so ashamed for forgetting and immediately hugs her. One of his favorite stories from Naru-nii was when he met their mother. Naruto loved hearing it so much, Naru-nii repeated it ten times for him. Naruto dreamed of meeting her, and sobs in their embrace, 'I've always wanted to see you, mom.'

Holding him back just as tightly, and petting his silky blond hair, Kushina smiles as she gushes, 'you look a lot like your father.' Tilting back to see him closely, she adds, 'but I have a feeling you take a lot after me.'

Holding both her hands, an ecstatic Naruto bellows, 'I have so many questions.'

'Yeah, same. We can take our time and talk,' she cheerfully returns. Looking off to the side, as if sensing the Nine-Tails, Kushina suggests, 'but first, we should take care of the Kyūbi-'

'Kurama,' Naruto interrupts with a sniff, wiping his eyes of tears with his forearm.

Curious, she asks, 'huh?'

'His name,' Naruto clarifies. 'It's Kurama.'

'It has a name,' Kushina returns in shock.

'I'm pretty sure it's a he,' Naruto casually tells her. 'But yeah. Actually, I should catch you up on a lot of stuff.'

'Uh, okay,' Kushina slowly accepts. Returning her attention to the Kyūbi outside their realm, she asserts, 'just hold that thought.'

Pulling out of Kurama's negative emotions and hatred with a great, "OOF," Naruto feels sudden and sweet extensions shooting out of his body, not unlike his tails when he's in his Kyūbi mode. Chains with arrowheads shoot out with the force of a cannonball, causing repeated and loud clinking noise as the series of chains wrap around all of Kurama's limbs and tails before anchoring deep into the ground.

'These chakra chains,' Kurama remarks. As he struggles to free himself, he yells, 'Kushina!'

Seated across from his mother, Naruto is smiling broadly as he voices, 'I know tou-chan included your chakra in the sealing ceremony, and man, my mom is really pretty, just like Naru-nii said.'

Smiling at the compliment, she's also confused by the rest of what he said, asking. 'uh, how do you know that and who is Naru-nii?'

'Um, well, I know a lot because a version of me from the future told me,' Naruto bluntly confesses. 'Like, I know how you and tou-chan met, how he's the first man to compliment your hair, your nickname in the Academy, why you were brought to Konoha, how you were almost kidnapped, and how tou-chan saved you. It's honestly my favorite story to hear.'

With raised eyebrows and wide eyes staring at her buoyant son, a stunned Kushina simply acknowledges, 'mmm, okay… for the sake of time, I'm just going to accept all of that… and say my son is very knowledgeable.' Shaking her head and shrugging the disbelief off, she adds, 'which makes me happy,' leading Naruto to chuckle happily. 'I bet you don't know this though.'

'What?'

Grinning like Naruto tends to, Kushina proclaims, 'I love you more than anything in the whole wide world.'

A sharp surge of embarrassing happiness bubbles up from his core to the ends of his being, and like a great tsunami, fill him with suffocating bliss. In contrast to how bleak and angry he was moments ago, he feels happier than he ever thought possible, leveling confident eyes at a restrained Kurama.

Naruto yells, 'WHHOOAAA,' as Kurama's dark hatred recedes from their chakra link.

Naruto feels completely restored as his mother tells him, 'the chakras I used to control him won't last much longer. Now's your chance to get him.'

'Right,' Naruto calls before crossing his fingers. 'Kage Bunshin no Jutsu.' A company of Naruto materialize as Kurama is attempting to rip away Kushina's strong chains. Dozens upon dozens of Naruto rush the strongest tailed beast, every single one of them creating a Rasengan before leaping into the air.

They yell, 'Rasen Cho Darengan!' as they try to land a barrage of Rasengans, only for Kurama to swipe most away with claws and tails. While distracted, Kushina pulls on the chains around Kurama's legs, forcing the large chakra monster to fall backward. When Naruto's sage mode reactivates, the remaining platoon of clones flying in enlarge their Rasengans for a Senpo Cho Odama Rasen Daregan. Like getting wrecked with a dozen meteors, Kurama is blown back, and just as he tries to stand, another Naruto lands in front of the great beast and slams a Rasen Shuriken in his chest, tearing him apart from his chakra.

'Pull!' All the sage Narutos yell as the clone hitting Kurama with the massive Futon Rasengan forces the physical form of the grand beast away from its chakra.

When all of Kurama's chakra is forcibly taken from the irate and skinny Kurama, it quickly drains into Naruto, erupting him into bright firelight and flickering flame. There are swirl patterns on his shoulders, stomach, and palms connected by squarely shaped lines extending along his body, two horn-like hairs on his head, and six magatama markings around his neck. Naruto is in disbelief at how much raw power is coursing through him. Looking at his bright hand, he can't even believe the astronomical strength emanating from the limb is truly his to wield.

He's interrupted when Kurama yells, 'Naruto! You have angered meeeee!'

Observing someone he'd hoped to be friends with withering into a boney skeleton of himself as he creates a massive black beast ball above them, Naruto sadly voices toward the tailed beast, 'you really are amazing,' before recalling the Fūin key to his arm and closing the four symbol seal on his stomach. Red torii gates rocket down from on high to bind every limb and tail of the angered and sad beast as Kurama is sealed away, cursing Naruto all throughout.

Closing his eyes, Naruto sincerely apologizes, 'sorry, Kurama. We'll sort this out, I promise. Just wait a little longer.'

When he opens his eyes, he's back in the white room with his mother as she slowly confesses, 'now I can finally join Minato.'

Taken aback by that, Naruto breathes, 'mom,' as he realizes she's leaving him again. He could already feel the surge of sadness bring tears to his eyes, but he holds back.

'But before I do,' she brightly says. 'I need to tell you the truth about your birth-'

'You don't, actually,' Naruto informs her with a weak smile. 'I already know that too.'

Nodding in realization, she chuckles, 'jeez, what don't you know?'

'Can you instead tell me what happened in Uzushiogakure,' Naruto asks before energetically adding, 'or maybe how to use those sweet chains. Tou-chan taught me Hiraishin when I saw him. It'd be so sweet if you taught me something too.'

'Kongō Fūsa, or Adamantine Sealing chain,' Kushina dutifully recites, as if recalling a long lost past in fond memory. She then offers Naruto, 'how about both? If you get a chance to visit Uzushiogakure, there should be underground safe bunkers only an Uzumaki can access. I'm not sure how much was destroyed or recovered but I'm sure you'll find something sealed away.' Naruto nods as it makes sense to him. She also expresses, 'I don't know what you might learn, but remember, nothing we do can change the past but everything we do now can change the future. It's horribly sad to have lost so much of our history and family—it's incalculable—but the future can still be bright as long as we don't give up.'

'Yeah, I'll definitely remember that,' Naruto promises, solemnly adding, 'I'll make you proud.'

Placing her hand over his heart, she readily assures him, 'you already have.' It took everything in him not to tears up, and mercifully, she says, 'as for the sealing chains, training for that is a little different; very focus heavy.'

'Like sage training?'

'Similar,' Kushina admits with a hesitant nod before asking, 'wait, can you use senjutsu?'

'You know it,' he answers with a grin.

Wide-eyed, she replies, 'but you're so young!' Then suddenly realizing something amiss, she sadly asks, 'actually, how old are you? Which is a horrible thing to not know about my own son!'

Chuckling, he answers, 'sixteen.'

'You're practically a man,' she fondly comments. Naruto sniffs and harshly rubs his eyes of the tears threatening to fall when she mercifully marches on. Raising a finger like a teacher giving a lecture, Kushina explains, 'right, so, um, first thing you should know is Adamantine chain not only use our chakra but our life energies as well, which is why this is something that only those of the Uzumaki clan have ever succeeded in achieving. Our physical human form is like a natural Fūin seal for our chakra, and like any seal, Fūin-specific hand seals are the characters that can harness the life energy within us.'

Quirking his brow, Naruto repeats, 'Fūin hand-characters,' before asking, 'like the characters written in a Fūinjutsu scroll but in hand-seals?'

Nodding, his mother further explains, 'it's an ancient, and I guess now, lost knowledge called the Kuji-in, or the Nine Seals. I say seals but it's more of a nine-word prayer recited in secret meant to give form to your chakra-mixed life force, very much like Fūinjutsu characters give direction to spirit energy.'

'I'll pass it down to other Uzumaki I find,' Naruto promises to which she smiles and nods.

Extending her palms forward for his viewing and wiggling her fingers so he'd also follow along, she begins instructing, 'they go like this; Rin,' she says, showing him the hand seal for it. He mimics her as she continues, 'Hyuo,' then shows him the correlating hand seal. 'Tou, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zai, and Zen,' she finishes, displaying all the Fūin hand-seals. Naruto is grateful when she slowly repeats each secret and completely unknown hand seals. 'These hand seals, which translate to, 'May All Those Who Preside Over Warriors Be My Vanguard,' call upon your life chakras to channel and focus into protective sealing chains.'

'Awwwwesome!'

After chuckling, Kushina continues, 'additionally, the word protection takes a different form depending on the Uzumaki. There were only a dozen or so in the clan I personally knew who could use the chains, but none of them did the exact same thing.' Tilting her heard to carefully recall the different traits of past Adamantine chains, she replies, 'all of them were great for sealing, but on top of that, mine was good against Bijū chakra. One cousin was great at healing nearly anything. Another could cancel any ninjutsu, one could absorb chakra, one was great for tracking, and another amplified the effect of their genjutsu. All of these extra abilities can be seen as a form of protection, which is why they vary from Uzumaki to Uzumaki, since it depends on what they believe will best protect them.'

Nearly drooling with stars in his eyes, Naruto yells, 'EVEN MORE AWESOME! How do I do it? How do I do it?'

Shaking her shoulders as she laughs silently to herself, it takes her a moment to calmly explain, 'first, it's very much a kekkei genkai, so not all those with Uzumaki blood in them will have it.' Though it takes the wind out of his sails, she honestly tells him, 'your life-force either has at least one chain or it doesn't.'

Recalling the number of his mother's chains coming out of him, he remarks, 'you have a ton of them.'

'Hehe, look who you're talking to,' she returns with a cheeky glee. 'Your mom's no slouch. Genetics plays a part in it, so you'll likely have some chains. Whether it's enough to be useful in combat remains to be seen.'

With a pumped fist, Naruto proclaims, 'let's give it a shot!'

'Remember,' Kushina says. 'It's a silent chant that helps as you focus your life-force chakra. While you chant, try to remember what it felt like when I was doing it, that happy energy that runs up and down your body…' With deep melancholy, she voices, 'like when I had you.' The silence between them threatens to expose their impending separation, and Kushina shakes the thought away as she informs, 'repeat the chant to yourself while focusing on that energy. You want to be able to single it out, build it until you can't take it anymore, and let it explode from your body. It'll be difficult at first but the more you practice the better you'll be able to control it.'

Wondering about his Kage Bunshin training, he asks, 'is it like tou-chan's Rasengan training?'

'Yup, so it might take you a few years but don't let that discourage you,' she encourages. 'It took me years to learn how to use mine.'

'I'll definitely do it,' he confidently promises.

'I know,' she assures him before uncomfortable silence descends. 'I'm almost out of time.'

Quickly feeling anxious, Naruto remembers Naru-nii suggesting he think of something to say, and quickly tells her, 'uh, um, you and dad… sacrificed your lives for me-' Clearing his throat of the large log growing over his vocal cords, he forces himself to say, 'even if I didn't feel it, I know now there was love inside of me way before all the hate. So I'm happy.' Feeling the tears begin to well up in his eyes, he insists, 'I'm glad you guys were my parents.'

Tears streaming down her happy face, Kushina struggles to express, 'thank you for making me your mother… for making Minato your father… for being born to us… thank you so much, Naruto, for being my beautiful boy.'

It's the last thing she says to him as she disappears far too quickly. Letting the tears spill freely from red burning eyes, Naruto returns to the real world feeling robbed yet happy to have had at least that with her. Opening his eyes to the real world, Naruto says under his breath, "thank you, mom," before standing on his feet.

"Jeez, you son of- gah, you scared the hell out of me," Jiraiya yells. Somehow Naruto is an unfurnished house when he was originally in a grassy field. Searching the empty room for Sakura, Jiraiya continues to yell, "I nearly had a heart attack! Ohh, Kami, help me! Don't let me die until I finish this book!"

Recalling the whole reason he engaged Kurama, Naruto doesn't recall any new memories and surmises, "since they didn't pop, maybe they're in sage mode…" Turning to Jiraiya, a red-nosed misty-eyed Naruto asks, "how much time passed out here? And why are we in a house?"

"You didn't think I was going to let the Kyūbi roam free in the countryside, did you? You were bubbling red chakra everywhere! I summoned one of my toads in case we needed to be reverse summoned to Myōboku."

"We're inside a toad?"

Nodding, Jiraiya then answers, "it's been nearly twenty minutes. Why?"

Posing deep in thought, Naruto figures, "I'll just tell them to try and see if it works." Connecting paired fingers in a cross, he calls, "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu." His clone immediately dispels after materializing, then Naruto waits a moment before cursing, "shit, they can't." Grabbing his head in disappointing frustration, he grumbles, "it's probably because they're clones of me before I sectioned off Kurama's chakra…"

Stunned to hear, Jiraiya asks, "you really… are you serious?"

Naruto nods absentmindedly before shaking his head and cursing, "fuck it." Turning to Jiraiya, he asks, "where's the nearest river?"

"What for?"

"I got a lot of training to do," the blond quickly answers.

Looking around incredulously, Jiraiya asks, "now? What about Kurenai-kun- ah, uh, I mean, what about finding Tsunade?"

Exiting Jiraiya's summoned Toad building to the slowly lowering sun and clear skies, Naruto hollers, "I need a big river!" He surprises Sakura who's been waiting patiently on a stool beside the toad house.

Putting away the scroll she's been reading, Sakura rushes to them as she asks, "what's going on? What happened in there?"

After Sakura points toward the nearest river, Naruto sprints north for ten minutes before finding a wide body of streaming water. Looking at the strength of the current, Naruto calls out, "yosh," before clapping his hands together and igniting the massive amount of chakra within him into a raging cauldron of flux. Naruto exhales a loud groaning deep from his gut as he overloads his network with as much chakra as he can suffer through before finally yelling, "Tajū Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

After a massive gas of white smoke clears the entire area around them, Sakura grunts, "geh," with wide-eyed shock. After scanning the hundreds of blond clones, she loudly asks, "what are you going to do with so many clones?"

He orders to his battalion of clones with a bright yell, "yosha! Start powering up! We got some chakra control to work on asap!"

As the hundreds of clones rush into the water, splashing everywhere and getting half-naked, a blushing Sakura repeats, "chakra control? Now?"

Digging into his rear pouch, Naruto takes out a kunai and extends it to Sakura, asserting, "here. Keep this with you, okay?"

Still confused by everything, she mechanically takes the ordinary weapon and curiously looks it over before spotting and reading the inscription out loud. "My Ninja Way." Confused, she turns to him before asking, "what's this for-"

"I need you guys to keep going," Naruto tells them, as many of the clones are already being swept away with the current. "Continue the mission," he adds, however, Jiraiya is immediately against it, his big arms crossed together in an X.

"No way," the Sage nearly weeps to say. "I have soo many questions! No, I refuse to let you go until my great curiosity as an exemplary man is sufficiently satisfied!"

Smacking his face with his palm, Naruto drags his hand hard down his features as he explains with as much patience as possible, "I'll answer them later." Grabbing his Godfather by his broad shoulders, he appeals, "please, just keep going. You know where to go and I have to stay here and train." Adding as much puppy-love in his big, lovable blue eyes, Naruto pleads, "please."

"… grrrrr, fine!" He yells, throwing his arms up in sadness. He then aims a stern finger at Naruto as he slowly and methodically stipulates, "but only under the condition we visit a club soon… that has a private room for dining and drinks… and I get to ask you all the questions I want!"

"Yeah, fine, whatever," Naruto agrees, pushing the man's back to force him to start running. "Later, later." As Jiraiya and Sakura turn to him, torn by their colossal need to ask him questions, Naruto waves as he adds, "stay safe."

Looking east and imagining an unconscious Itachi, Mei, and his weakened clone trying to travel five hours without falling to Kisame's blade, Naruto feels weighed down by his urge to just run and rescue them. All Naruto knows from Naru-nii is that Kisame is so strong and devout, it took one of Guy-sensei's strongest attacks to slow him down, and he still committed suicide simply to keep his enemies from learning anything about Akatsuki. They're facing a monster and it feels odd to just train while they're running for their lives

'Just give me a couple of hours, guys,' Naruto mentally voices before powering up just enough himself and hopping into the strong rushing water to attempt to swimming against the current without moving his limbs. When he realizes how impossible it is, he does as some of his clones do and starts in the more shallow end so as to not be swept away.

MEI

Mei is sprinting as fast as she can with Itachi on her shoulder all the while sensing for any trace of Kisame's approach. Though it would be in her country's best interest to gain any information on the mercenary group known as Akatsuki, at the moment, her mission is to stabilize Itachi and escape Kisame at all cost; for the man is far too dangerous. Knowing him and his fidelity to protecting information, the chances are high the powerful shinobi wouldn't let them abduct a member of their secret group without a fight.

With her senses trained on the slightest hint of Kisame, Mei continues west either leaping from tree to tree, running over water, or when she couldn't avoid it, sprinting over the traceable terrain. For miles, Mei wonders who she'll sense first, and is eventually let down to feel Kisame's ominous approach closing in. Sighing, she groans, "well that's unfortunate."

Immediately she begins weighing her options. Mei either continues to help Naruto in the hopes it will buy her more goodwill with the strong young ninja, or she booby traps Itachi's body with explosive tags and tries to take Kisame out. Mei knows she wouldn't have the upper hand in a straight-up contest of strength against the Tail-less Tailed-Beast. Despite having two kekkei genkai, Mei has always been someone who fought with her mind rather than brute strength; objectively searching for an enemy's weakness and exploit it. In this case, however, fighting Kisame would only end in one of their deaths and likely at great cost, for no real benefit.

Leaping over a nearby stream, Mei wonders if helping Naruto is worth it just to add Zabuza and Haku to her rebellion to overthrow the Yondaime Mizukage. She may be the illegitimate daughter of the Sandaime Mizukage, but that was never why she desired her father's seat above even her desire for a happily married life. If she craves for her country to change for the better—as she knows it can— and wish to make that dream a reality, the only way is to take the Kage's hat from the tyrannical Karatachi.

Feeling a light scratch on her cheek from ducking under a branch, Mei knows she won't be able to change her country for the better if she dies or is heavily wounded today. She asks herself if this risk is worth it. Feeling her grip on Itachi's back softening, she makes her decision as Kisame slowly closes the thirty minutes of distance between them a dozen seconds at a time.

'At the pace he's going, he'll be on me in less than ten minutes,' she thinks as she inspects the terrain around her for the ideal condition to set Kisame up.

Only then does she sense something moving faster than Kisame, quickly meeting him, and suddenly both Kisame and the serene surge of energy fall off her senses completely. Mei assumes it's Naruto in his sage state and prays he knows not to use any attacks in chakra form, or Samehada will simply absorb it.

Mei runs through the massive forest of Fire Country for another hour before she senses a strong force tailing her again. Several minutes later, she realizes it's Kisame. Despondently, she hopes Naruto's clone is only delayed and not dispelled because she's still only two hours into a five-hour trek west to Kami knows where, and Itachi is not worth going all out against Kisame. Mei calculates thirty-five, possibly forty minutes before he catches up, and if Naruto doesn't catch up in that time, she's simply going to booby trap Itachi with all her exploding notes and pray she kills them both.

Pumping her sprinting legs efficiently with chakra—managing Itachi's weight with her own to reduce drag—Mei feels it in her bones, she doesn't want to make the wrong choice here. Though she never made Naruto a promise, she can't help but recall how much the blond has helped her countrymen when they were trying to kill him and his team; in Zabuza's case, trying to kill Naruto twice. It seems far too unsavory to honor that integrity by failing to keep the Uchiha alive, and that irks Mei the most.

It wouldn't be the first unsavory thing she's done in her life—not when one grows up in Kirigakure—but Mei's grown far too tired of all the bloody compromises. It's why their population is so low. She wants to protect life now, as indiscriminately as Naruto seems to, however, Mei doubts she can take Kisame on head-to-head without sacrificing a limb or her life. As the minutes' tick by and more and more sweat slides down her delicate brow, Mei realizes Naruto's clone wasn't going to catch up this time. It'll be just her against Kisame with no backup. She has to booby trap Itachi soon or she may not have adequate time to do it without raising suspicion.

'Fuck, he's fast,' her mind curses when it's down to mere minutes. 'It's now or never,' she tells herself. Reaching into her pouch, she feels her body hesitate to grip the exploding notes, and in the ever-length of that moment, she realizes the difference between the easy choice and the right one. Closing her green eyes a moment, she wonders if this decision will help quell some of the screams she hears in her sleep.

Mei holds Itachi tight and continues running for another twenty minutes before Kisame leaps over her and lands several yards away, cutting off her path. Both Kiri-nins breathe heavily as Mei slowly sets Itachi down and notices Samehada shivering to shed stone-like scales off bit by bit. The stone denticles even hit the ground with a heavy thud, making her wonder what Naruto did to hurt the sentient sword in such a way. Kisame's sweat bends around his maniacal grin as Mei steps to the right of Itachi, keeping both Akatsuki members in her field of vision. After all, she can't be sure when Itachi might wake up.

Standing confidently straighter, Kisame chuckles as he comments, "this ain't your style, Terumī."

So long as it isn't about the prospect of marriage, Mei isn't one to lack confidence and stands just as straight as she remarks, "you know as well as I do defeating me won't be as easy as you might imagine."

"Oh, I hope not," Kisame cheerfully replies. "You wouldn't know this but my partner over there isn't much for the joys of good bloody battle. We're opposites like that, so I haven't been able to cut loose in Kami knows how long. I'd be all for dusting off as long as it's the bloodiest fight I've ever been in."

Recognizing that sort of bravado everywhere in Kiri, Mei has a good understanding of why most shinobi go that far. Far too many ninjas in Kiri have done too many horrible things, and accepting the monster within them is the preferred method of coping with those horrible memories. As she's done many times before, Mei counsels, "that's not the strength you think it is, Kisame."

"This is the world," he purports as Samehada sheds another stone scale and replaces it with a lighter blue one. "You're either the biggest bad in the water or you're food. Your father failed to see that, which is why he's fertilizer now."

Despite the deep sting, Mei never shows such vulnerability and calmly replies, "I suppose there's nothing left to talk about. Though I will say I hope I'm there the moment you realize the world isn't what you think it is."

"Oh," he grins snidely. "Then educate me, Terumī. Regale me with one of your poor-man's proverbs from your decimated people. Tell me how I got it wrong… what this world's really about, like it's so fucking complicated. Come on, tell me before I kill you."

Taking out a kunai from her white pouch, Mei effortlessly spins the metal horizontally from the middle on her fine finger, as if it were a tray, and confidently assures Kisame, "it has, and always will be, about balance."

As he brings the nearly 'healed' Samehada in front of him, Kisame grins as he proclaims, "I'm going to enjoy shredding you apart." Kisame blitzes to full speed, ready to slash Mei in half and grate inch by inch of her flesh off.

Mei knows her greatest disadvantage against a powerful shinobi like Kisame is speed. He's simply faster than she is, however, there are ways of dealing with that disadvantage. Mei expected his attack, his speed, his power, and she managed six hand-seals in the second it took him to strike her. He wasn't surprised when he gutted her midsection, however, when she turned into an odorous mud, he staggered at the strong acid of her Lava release.

Kisame leaps back, swiping the hurt Samehada to rid it of the acidic mud when Mei attacks from the high branch of the nearby tree with a laser-straight, stone cutting water. Busting through his chest and out his back, Kisame then turns to water, compelling Mei to whip her head behind her, spotting Kisame a second before he brings his large sword down. Raising her arms, Mei defends with her kunai but unable to withstand the force of the blunt sword, Mei is rocketed to the earth below.

Landing away from Itachi, Mei watches Kisame land next to his partner, and for a fleeting moment, she wonders if he'll simply take the Uchiha and run. Of course, he kept on walking, confident in the real Mei before him.

"Don't disappoint," he mocks her.

"You mean like this," she asks, as she puts up two fingers.

Behind him, an exploding tag on Itachi's side begins to sizzle. Kisame leaps to snag it, and it's all the decoy she needs to call, "Yōton-" but a sound behind her alerts her senses, and she only has enough time to turn and receive a kick to the stomach. Mei tumbles back several feet before collecting herself on skidding feet between two Kisames.

Crushing the paper tag, Kisame smiles as he asks, "you didn't think I could tell the difference between a decoy tag?" Hand to heart, he admits, "I'm insulted you'd think I'd fall for that like some guppy. You're up against a shark here."

"Am I?" Mei cheekily asks, dusting her slitted blue dress of dirt. "I thought I was talking a sad and disillusioned man lost in the world."

Looking between both Kisames, she doesn't feel any more or less in danger. She simply becomes more serious, priming her pool of chakra like boiling water, until steam began emitting from her every pore. White vapor fresh off her body is dragged away in the passing wind as the internal pressure created by the steam within her musculature and chakra network amplifies the force of her strength. Despite feeling her strength double, Mei rarely uses this Boil Release technique as there are side effects she'll now have to contend with later.

Her auburn hair flows effortlessly in waves as she conveys, "you have my apology, Kisame. I'll take you much more seriously now."

As both Kisames lung at the same time, gripping Samehada to rip her in three, she can already feel her chakra depleting. Though worth it as her increased speed allows her to dodge both swipes and her increased strength easily sent one several feet back with a counter kick, Mei's mind knows she has to finish him as fast as possible, or she won't survive.

Fighting them both with her enhanced taijutsu was like a dance to her. Her footwork is paramount against a broad sword and slightly easier to counter when she kept one Kisame in the cutting path of the other. It allowed Mei openings for a punch or kick that now hit with the strength like a large war-hammer. Her speed was swifter and her intellect was where she frustrated Kisame. Mei would purposely provoke an opening he would fall for and she'd easily counter. Juking left to go right, sliding out a kunai to distract his eyes, attacking his footwork, Kisame was so frustrated by the dance, he sacrificed his clone by slashing through him to strike her in the gut, sending her back a dozen yards.

Though her durability also increased, she felt that strike, seeing stars in her vision of him smiling smugly. He tore the midsection of her combat dress and a few of Samehada's scales managed to dig out some skin through her wire-mesh body armor cause blood to flow. Mei's legs were still strong but Kisame had already blitzed her and though ready to take him, she didn't expect the body where Itachi laid to suddenly be behind her. They were attacking her from both sides and as Mei managed a half-spin to the left, she only saw an orange flash pass her.

The loudest grunt pierced her ears as the auburn bang over her right eye whips high enough for her to see the sun, in human form, hit Kisame in the gut hard enough to rocket him back—perfectly leveled with the forest floor—a hundred yards in a matter of seconds. The large blue man eventually hits the ground and rolls like an uncoordinated ball of limbs to a skidding stop. Before Kisame can even get on his feet, the Sun-Man turns, grabs her stunned figure, followed by Itachi, then somehow, she's suddenly dropped in a completely different environment.

Taking in the room that appears to be an inn, as well as the pink-haired girl dressed in nightwear midway through setting out her futon, completely dumbfounded Mei; unable to explain how she ended up there from one second to the next. The Sun-Man suddenly loses all his brilliant flames and Naruto is standing before her in his red and black cloak, smiling, as he often does, at her.

"Sorry it took me so long," Naruto huffs, wiping his brow of sweat. "That's a lot harder than I thought it'd be."

"…Naruto," the stunned Mei and pink-haired girl gasp at the same time.

Turning to the girl she recalls is Haruno Sakura, Naruto asks, "would you mind healing Itachi? I'll tie him up with a special Fūinjutsu binding- Oh, and where's Ero-"

"NARUTO!" They all hear before a large old man with long, spiky, white hair in a purple robe slides the window open and backflips inside. With blushing cheeks and widely flaring nostrils, the old man points a strong finger to Mei and yells, "who is this absolutely stunning bomb-shell?! And why is she with you?!"

Hollering sickeningly, Haruno yells at the perverted sage, "were you by my window while I was changing?!"

Naruto simply sighs, shaking his head, before a terribly confused Mei lets out the steam and slumps to the floor, feeling tired enough to go to sleep.

First, thank you guys so much for continuing to support this fic. I really do enjoy entertaining you guys to the best of my ability. Sadly I wish I had more time. My schedule hasn't really changed so even though I try to write as much as I can, it's still looking like 1 chapter every 3-4 weeks. Sorry😢

This was a very fun chapter to write. I hadn't written action in a while so I was a little rusty in the beginning. I know I repeated some canon stuff. I didn't completely rush through it cuz I didn't want to fall in the same mistake I made with the Gaara/Naruto fight.

First, Kisame vs Mei is an interesting fight because in terms of brute strength, Kisame would win IMO, but I also believe there's more to a fight than brute strength. I think the deciding factor would be who has the better strategy. If there are ways around Samehada and Kisame's brute strength is marginalized by Mei's acidic mist(please don't say he can dodge mist. It's not a straight line spray. It encompasses whole areas.) then it's possible for Mei to win. All I'm saying is if strategy is taken into account, then I feel Mei is capable of coming out on top. P.S. that trick Mei did in Kisame's Water Prison is just separating hydrogen atoms from the oxygen. It's simple science.

Also, I don't know if Mei can use her Boil Release like that. I just know that the 5-Tails can heat chakra to a boiling point to increase speed and strength. There's nothing saying she can use this, but there's nothing say she can't and considering she has the goods to be Mizukage, I just decided to give it to her, however, it does have side effects, which you'll see in the following chapter.

Next, Samehada is able to absorb visible chakra, like a Jinchūriki chakra shroud, or through direct physical contact. The sword can't absorb techniques(elemental techniques) or ambient chakra which could mean sage chakra. That's open to interpretation, I guess. Yes, Samehada sliced through a Katon jutsu, but he didn't absorb it, and he doesn't seem to like fire jutsu. Also, there's nothing saying that Samehada uses Nature chakra, so considering it drains regular chakra like characters in the Naruto world, I figure it might also turn into stone if it tried to suck up Sage Chakra. Since shark skin can regenerate fairly fast, I had Samehada shed his petrified scales/denticles.

The Kuji-in is real in Buddhist Taoism. The text is called Baopuzi. Yay research!😊

Thank you again to my amazing patrons for your support. Though I always want to write, your support adds an extra layer of delight. If a fan of my fanfic would like to support, I have a family friendly fantasy novel on Amazon called Old Hand Steel by Santana Bazil. It cost $3, and so far has 5-star reviews! There are only three reviewers(Thank you Praetor Xyn, Darrel) but that's amazing to me😁😎 Or you can tip me on my pay-tree-on at /graefoxx. Dreams are achieved one step at a time and absent quit!

Well, I gotta get going. Let me know what you think. All reviews help me get better. They sustain me😁 Please everyone be safe and take care,

-Grae

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