A boy charged them first, who couldn't have been much older than they were, wielding the largest hammer Sakura had ever seen in her life. Gaara's sand flew up with plenty of time to intercept it, and despite the size the hammer didn't even remotely seem to make a dent.
The boy, however, smirked. He reached into a pouch at his hip and drew several strips of paper, paper bombs, and slapped them onto the flat of the hammer. They began to sizzle, and Sakura had mere seconds to brace herself.
The boy raised his arms back and slammed the hammer against the sand in time with the bombs' detonation, and this time Gaara's shield almost burst from the effort of taking the blow. Though the force of the blow didn't hit them directly, the wind pressure from the attack sent the three of them reeling.
"Shit!" Sakura cursed aloud. Was this boy going to blow up the whole mountain with that damned thing? Around her she saw rubble crumbling down the cliffsides, and the boy himself had singe marks on his clothing and even on his face from the blow. Despite this, the boy looked excited, perhaps even maniacal. It reminded her of the look Hidan had gotten as she watched him fight Hiroshi.
Definitely cut from the same cloth.
And the boy was already pulling out more paper bombs to slap on that abomination of a hammer. Sakura moved to draw a kunai, but by the time she was rearing back to throw, the boy swung a second time, clashing once more with Gaara's sand. This time Sakura was slightly more prepared for the blast, but the force of it was still enough to send her scooting back in the dirt several inches. She looked forward just in time to see an even scarier side effect of the weapon: the heat and force of the blast was melting Gaara's sand at the impact point, which meant that every successful hit gave Gaara less sand to work with. If they kept this up, Gaara's shield wouldn't last, and though Gaara was capable of mixing his sand with soil to create more earth to work with, they were in a ravine, and the earth beneath them was hard and difficult to mold.
Sai, thankfully, had already begun to draw, and before the boy could draw up a third set of paper bombs, an inked bird flew directly into his eyes and caused him to stagger.
"Push forward!" Sai insisted. "They told us to aim for the temple!"
He was right, the temple was their true goal, not these fighters, and of course they'd send the fucking exploding hammer in first, if only to route them and cause them to move further away from the goal. However, this reminder alone caused Sakura to realize something. The hammer was large, which meant the boy could only swing it so fast, and he had to prepare the bombs before activating them. It was intimidating, but after having weathered the first few blows it had been easy enough for Sai to aim and get a pot shot in. Not only that, but only the boy had moved in, with the others on stand-by as though it was currently their job to just sit and watch.
It was almost like they weren't really trying to kill them, simply scare them off. And then it clicked, because of course the Jashinists would have an intimidating hazing ritual for potential recruits. The first few shots from the woman would have killed any curious bandits, and once Sakura had shown her medallion and announced her intent, then the woman had summoned her band and announced the exercise. They wouldn't just kill potential recruits, not before getting a chance to assess their skills and find out if they were worthy.
It was a test. A flashy, explosive one meant to test their mettle. Sai was right, they had to push forward if they wanted to pass.
Not only that, but the woman had stated they got extra 'points' for disabling opponents. They wanted bold, they wanted brave, they wanted fighting prowess and skill on top of the ability to maintain one's composure and push past an enemy. There was a part of Sakura that wondered if she could just convince Gaara to rush the five with his sand and quickly crush them, like he used to do a year ago. But that wasn't really proving her own power, and it wasn't Gaara who had dragged them here to figure out answers. Sakura was the one with the amulet, the one with strange visions and interesting powers, the one who had spoken to Hidan and learned where she'd needed to go. She needed to prove that she was worthy of entering the temple.
"Cover me." She told the boys, stowing away her kunai. She had a plan now, and she'd always been a good test taker. Sakura pushed chakra towards her legs and threw herself forward, reaching the boy in front of her and grabbing not him, but the hammer. With the ink in his eyes, the boy couldn't put up much resistance, and that meant Sakura could disarm him and get an asset for herself. She yanked the hammer from his hands, only buckling a little under the weight of the new weapon, and in the same rushing motion arced it forward in an attack towards the enemies ahead. The hammer hadn't been primed with bombs yet, but it appeared as though the others had an instinctive reaction to back away when the hammer was swung, as each of them hopped away in anticipation. Behind her, she caught a glimpse of Sai knocking out the enemy boy with quick strike to the head, and with that her boys caught up and they had regained the ground they'd lost.
And now Sakura had a hammer.
She hadn't been trained in handling large weapons, of course, but there was still something kind of empowering about wielding one nonetheless. And while her current idea was admittedly a stupid one, Sakura liked the idea of turning an enemy's weapon against them. She stopped just long enough to offer the flat of the hammer to Sai, who in turn got a knowing glint in his eye and pulled out paper bombs of his own to donate.
"Gaara, put me in the air!"
She rushed forward, and in front of her Gaara's sand flowed to make a staircase. She leaped when she reached the top of it, letting both gravity and her own strength bring the hammer in a downward arc towards the group, right as Sai's bombs primed to detonate. The enemies dodged it, of course, which Sakura had been expecting; she hadn't wanted to hit them with the blow, after all.
The hammer struck the ground, and the full force of the blast suddenly pushed Sakura upwards and forwards through the air, over her opponents and directly towards the temple. For a moment, she wondered if things could really be that easy. But before she landed on the ground, she felt something wrap around her ankle and pull her sharply downwards, causing her to slam onto her back rather than land neatly on her feet.
"Nice try, but not good enough!"
The man who'd spoken up was wielding a long chain in both hands. It took a brief moment for Sakura to realize that there were hooked barbs among some of the links, and that the pain she was now feeling on top of the soreness of the fall was coming from the metal digging into her skin.
Shit, that's not coming out easy.
Definitely a weapon meant to maim, not kill. Keep her pinned down or else risk tearing veins and arteries trying to remove the chain. A part of Sakura wished she knew a lightning jutsu; a small shock down the chain would easily force the man to let go, that she knew from experience now, but of course she had to have been born an earth type.
Which meant, right now, leaving it in until she could get to safety behind Gaara's sand was her only option. She couldn't risk removing it in battle.
But she'd dealt with worse pain, she realized, absolutely nothing could top several doses of lightning jutsu directly into her nervous system, and Sakura found a simple pleasure in watching the look on the man's face as she stood up without even bothering to address her wound.
"Nice try." She retorted, grinning. "But not good enough."
Her boys were running to catch up, which gave her an opportunity. Sakura's hands weaved a series of signals, at the same time molding chakra into her mouth, and fired several water bullets directly at the man's face. He ducked and weaved, of course, and Sakura gritted her teeth as the chain moved with him, but the bullets had just been a distraction: Gaara's sand weaved its way around the man's arms and she saw the sand constrict tightly. The man didn't even yell or cry out, to his credit, and Sakura wasn't sure if Gaara had broken bones or just squeezed tightly enough to cause pain, but it was still enough to make him drop the chain. Sakura quickly reached down and began to bundle it before anyone else could make a grab for it. At the same time, she saw Sai in the distance, sending several waves of inked tigers at the other fighters to keep them at bay.
There was currently nobody between her and the temple, but Sakura wasn't sure if she could limp her way there before an enemy fought their way around the boys.
But...they were in a canyon. There was a lot of hard earth beneath their feet, and even though Gaara's sand was limited in capacity, if the two of them worked together…
"Sai, head for the air!" Sakura called out, forcing her shaking legs into a stance. She let chakra begin to build in her hands, and prepared herself to mold the earth in front of her. "Gaara, let's cut them off!"
Gaara was by her side in an instant, Shukaku's chakra flaring up around him. She started flowing through hand signs, and to her surprise and curiosity she saw Gaara mimicking her and going through the same. So Gaara wasn't using his sand for the wall. A potential advantage, she noted, if the wall didn't work and their enemies tried to cut them off again. They both slammed their hands to the ground at the same time, and Sakura could feel the rush of Shukaku's chakra alongside her own as they summoned forth walls of earth. The wall spread across the ravine just in time to separate them from the enemy.
Sakura took the brief moment of reprieve to take a deep breath. Her leg ached, but they'd bought some time. She saw Sai, aloft on a giant inked bird, narrowly dodge a few kunai as he cleared the wall. As he landed next to them, he smiled.
"Kind of an easy test, wasn't it?"
"Ha, ha, you don't have several daggers in your leg." Sakura retorted. "And we're not quite there yet."
Sai offered her a hand. "Well, we can rectify that."
Sakura gladly took his hand, sitting down on the back of his bird as Gaara climbed on as well. From there, the bird lazily flew them towards the temple entrance, reaching it just as their attackers had managed to scale the wall behind them. Sai dismissed the bird, then turned to give the pursuers a cheeky wave.
They each took a confident step through the temple's entrance, and then heard an ominous click as one of the tiles sank beneath Sakura's foot.
Gaara's sand rushed around them in an ultimately futile gesture as the ground opened up beneath their feet. Sakura felt the lurch of gravity and frantically tried to reach for solid ground, at the same time feeling Sai grab onto her. They were in freefall for only a few moments before Gaara's sand caught up and formed a platform beneath them, but by then the trapdoor above them had already begun to close. It was but a few moments later before the trio were submerged into darkness.
"So...what were you saying about the test being easy, Sai?"
"We got into the temple. We technically passed the test."
"The first test, we should have known the damn entranced was trapped! For all we know we just narrowly avoided a spiked pit or something down there!"
"Considering they intended for their potential recruits to be rushing for the entrance, I doubt they'd lay a trap that killed those that were successful. I would assume that the second test is escaping the trap."
"Great. Do you wanna try to pry the ceiling open?"
"Let's start with being able to see."
There was a small click as Sai turned on a flashlight, and light spilled into the chamber. There were tight walls all around them, and of course Gaara's sand beneath them, but beyond Gaara's sand she saw not spikes, but a long tunnel with a slide that led deeper into the mountain. "You're probably right, Sai, they did intend for us to fall for it." Sakura concluded as she squinted into the darkness. "And if we want to know more, we probably need to play along with their games. But first…" She grimaced. "...mind getting this stupid chain off my leg?"
The barbs took a gentle hand to remove, but thankfully Sai was more than capable. As Sai got to work bandaging it, Gaara used his sand to slowly take them down the slide. The tunnel eventually evened out, going forward instead of going downward, and in the distance Sakura caught sight of light.
The tunnel eventually opened up, dumping them into what appeared to be a fairly large barred cell. Easy enough to break through the bars, and Sakura was already contemplating the best way to force them apart, but her thoughts were interrupted by who she saw on the other side.
It was a man, an older man with hair as pure white as snow. He wore simple white robes and carried a tall, black staff: the very same staff that the man depicted in the statue outside had wielded. This man, however, was clearly different. There were no horns upon his brow, and his robes did not have the distinct magatama pattern upon them. The man did, however, have unusual, pupil-less eyes...eyes that distinctly reminded her of the Byakugan of all things.
"Sakura Haruno." The man announced, stating her name rather than inquiring it. "Gaara. Sai." He nodded towards each of the boys in turn. "You are earlier than we expected, I think. This bodes well."
About a million questions ran through Sakura's mind at once, the foremost of which being how did he know their names, but before she could speak up the man held up a hand to quiet her.
"I am Shiro Otsutsuki, one of the Jushisai of Jashin's temple. You have injured your leg, so perhaps you will first allow me to lead you to one of our healers. There, I will answer whatever questions you may have."
It was definitely a tempting offer, though Sakura was a bit wary. They'd gone from a hot-blooded fight to a sudden offer of healing and 'answers', a stark sort of whiplash that seemed a bit too good to be true. Sakura found herself reaching for the handle of her kunai, calming herself by running her fingers over the metal. She made to speak, but before she could she felt a sudden burst of chakra, angry chakra, and it was Gaara who stood forward to speak with Shukaku's low growl.
"And who are you to dare take on the name of the Sage of Six Paths?"
"I believe the correct term would be a grand-nephew of sorts." An amused smile came to the man's face, and he turned his hand to silence Gaara and Shukaku instead. "Peace, Shukaku. I mean not to dishonor the name of the one whom you know as Hagoromo. Much as Hagoromo fathered two sons that founded the names of Uchiha and Senju, so too did his younger brother, Hamura, father two daughters. One such daughter left these lands to found the clan of Hyuuga. The other remained here, and carried on the name of Otsutsuki. I am descended from that daughter, as are several others that make their home here within these caverns."
"Hamura…" Shukaku's voice seemed uncertain, and she saw Gaara's face twinge with confusion. "Hagoromo mentioned a brother once, but never the name."
"Then I daresay you have plenty of questions." Shiro then stepped forward, unlocking the door to the chamber and pulling it slowly open. "But first, your wounds, Sakura. And perhaps a warm meal. We have much to discuss, and I know you have traveled quite a long way."
Sakura was still wary, but the prospect of answers was too enticing to turn down. She stepped forward, determined.
"I'm here for answers." She decided. "Lead the way."
The tunnels were warm, and there was a faint mist about them that Shiro informed them was due to the presence of several underground hot springs. Sakura caught a glimpse of one of them as they walked, as well as the sight of two warriors balancing on the water's surface with bo staves, sparring with a ferocious intensity.
"The Hageshisai." Shiro spoke before she could ask. "You met several of their number on your way in. I must apologize for their roughness. They keep out intruders and test potential converts, and despite the fact that they knew of your coming, I have no doubt that they wanted to see what you were capable of. I hope you do not look upon them too harshly."
"They could use better security." Sai commented, and Sakura winced at the bluntness of the statement. "If we three could get in, so could most skilled shinobi."
"Most skilled shinobi do not know we exist." Shiro countered. "It was only through your brush with our Hidan that you know of us at all, and only due to the presence of your amulet that Ginkei gave you the means to find us. Those who stumble upon our temple by accident are usually bandits who fall easily to our temple traps, if our warriors do not get to them first. And the natural energy that runs throughout our caverns is more than capable of shielding our signatures from the most adept of sensors."
Natural energy. Sakura remembered the overwhelming amount of chakra she had sensed outside, but natural energy...that was supposed to be everywhere, and it had never interfered with her sensing before.
"How is it that so much natural energy gathers here?"
"Our temple lies upon a nexus." Shiro explained, looking back at her with a gentle smile. "There are many nexus points throughout the world. The majority of these points have been settled by the sage colonies. These colonies are made up of chakra-sensitive animals that have served as companions for shinobi since before shinobi ever existed. Several more of these nexus points are hidden and notoriously difficult to access. Natural energy builds within the earth and seeps upward into the world through soil and rock. This energy is taken up by plants and recycled into the world as plants are devoured by living creatures. And upon death, the energy is recycled once more into the soil. Due to this process, many of the nexus points are located deep within the earth. It is only due to the natural tunnels created over hundreds of years that humans were able to find this nexus. That, of course, and my ancestor's uncanny ability to sense the patterns of natural energy within the earth."
"But what creates that energy to begin with?"
"Ah, what an insightful question. One I wish I could answer. I can provide you with our theories, if you wish. Our priests have debated this for generations, but alas we cannot dig far enough into the earth to learn the answer. Not enough air to breathe, and the ground itself grows hotter with every foot that you dig downward."
"Onoki-sensei had a theory about that!" Sakura grew excited as she remembered her sensei's teaching. "He believes that there's hot magma at the center of the planet, and that's why it gets hotter on the way down. He actually had an entire mining division dedicated to researching it. He referred to it as the 'core' of the planet."
"Indeed. And perhaps it is this core that produces the energy somehow, but the how and why of it, we do not know." Shiro suddenly stopped, gesturing for Sakura to enter a room to his right. "But for now, have a seat, and allow me to attend you. We have plenty of time to discuss the origin of natural energy, rest assured."
"Er, well, that's probably not the top priority."
"No, most assuredly not. But it is a worthy topic of discussion nonetheless."
The room had a small pool of steaming water in the center of it, and floating within the pool were dozens of porcelain bowls. As they floated across the water, they occasionally bumped into each other, creating a unique harmony of ringing sounds that was soothing to listen to. Around the pool were several chairs, as well as many tatami mats. A meditation room of sorts, Sakura deduced, though for now they were the only ones there. Shiro gestured for Sakura to sit in one of the chairs before kneeling down and placing his hands upon her legs. A green glow covered his hands, and the pain in Sakura's leg slowly began to bleed away.
"Simple medical jutsu." Shiro explained. "Which is more than sufficient for treating minor wounds such as these. For more invasive wounds, we of the Jushisai have more drastic techniques. I shall hope in your time here that I need not use them upon you."
"Thanks." Sakura stretched her leg, noting with a smile that the wounds had closed completely. "So long as nobody tries to kill us again."
"Oh, I unfortunately cannot guarantee that." Shiro answered with a chuckle. "The Hageshisai can be fairly belligerent at times, but as you are Jashin's chosen, I do not believe they will be quite as inclined as they usually are."
Sakura's eyes narrowed. "...chosen?"
"Yes. One of two. It is why I know of you, why all of us know of you. It is why you have found yourself beset by visions you cannot explain. Why you found remarkable power in dire moments. Why you are here, now, so desperate for answers. You are not here by chance, Sakura Haruno. You are here by Jashin's design."
"I find that hard to believe." Sai piped up. "Sakura didn't initially leave her home because some vision spurred her on. It was by chance she met Hidan at all."
"Chance, indeed." Shiro nodded. "But choice to leave. Choice to speak with Hidan and learn more. Choice to pursue the unification of the shinobi world. Choice to 'root' out the evil that had spread within Konoha's borders. Sakura, you were chosen because of the choices you made. You were led here because Jashin believes you worthy to be his own. Given strength because you have proven yourself worthy of it."
Sakura flushed slightly pink at the praise. There was a thought in her mind that there were far more worthy shinobi than herself...but Shiro didn't lie. She was pursuing peace, she did start the 'Konoha Revival' operation...and perhaps those things were worthy of acknowledgement. "But how do you know about all of this?" Sakura demanded. "How could news of what happened in Konoha possibly have reached here before we did? We came straight here."
"You already know the answer to that, don't you, Sakura?"
Sakura bit her lip as she thought. Visions, Shiro had mentioned, she'd had visions. She'd seen visions of the past. Visions of the present. Seen the world through other peoples' eyes.
She looked up towards Gaara and Sai, both of whom looked concerned and worried. "He's right." Sakura answered. "He's...right, but I don't know how it's possible. I didn't even really know it was happening until recently, it was like they were just some strange dreams…"
"You mentioned dreams." Gaara reminded her. "But you'd never said what they were."
"I didn't know, I still don't know!"
"Then perhaps we should begin there." Shiro gently took hold of her hands and helped her to her feet. "You want answers, Sakura, and I can give them. But perhaps it would serve you better if you found answers directly from the source. You are here, now, and you have answered Jashin's call. Now you must let him speak to you, if you are ready. If you are willing."
Sakura looked to her boys once again, but at this point her mind was already made up. She'd come too far to say no.
"I'm ready. And willing."
"Good. Then come this way."
In the back of the cave were several paper seals, and upon placing his hand in the center of them, the wall of the cave melted away to reveal a passageway. Shiro led them through it, deeper and deeper into the earth until Sakura could no longer hear the soothing melody of the bowls in the pond, could hear nothing at all but their footsteps and stillness. The passageway slowly opened up, and eventually she found herself within a massive chamber.
The first thing she noticed, something that was perhaps impossible to miss, was a massive altar, upon which rested an enormous deposit of black stone. Obsidian, Sakura recognized, and it was with a sudden realization that she noted that her amulet was also obsidian made, perhaps even from this very deposit, judging by the cuts and indentations along its sides. In front of the altar sat two candles, one whose wax was black, the other white. Both were lit, but unlike the other candles lighting the room, the wax on these candles did not seem to melt. Sakura's eyes were drawn to the white candle, and she was reminded of the pulsing again, a deep pulsing that was still echoing in her bones, demanding that she step closer and see...
"Come, Sakura. Sit before the altar and make yourself comfortable."
Sakura did so, sitting herself cross-legged on the long mat that lay in front of the altar. Shiro sat next to her in a similar position, and behind her she noted Gaara and Sai sit as well.
"This altar is a nexus. It is a position of great natural strength. Can you feel it, Sakura? Feel the echo of chakra beneath the stones?"
"Yes." Sakura answered. She closed her eyes, letting the pulsing rhythm of the room wash over her. "It's...overwhelming."
"Good. Focus on the echo. Keep very still, if you can, and breathe. Try to match the rhythm of the energy with every breath you take."
Sakura did so. It was difficult at first, clearing her mind and forcing her breath to match the rhythm that seemed to get more and more intense with each passing moment. She felt her heart pounding in her chest, could hear the steady crackle of the fire of the candles around her, and the pulsing, again and again and again. But with time, breathing to the rhythm became easier. She felt a sort of relief as her body matched its pace, and where the pulsing was overwhelming before, now it seemed to fade into the background, steady, never leaving, always there, but not overbearing.
"What now?" She asked, her eyes still closed for fear of breaking the calm she'd allowed to wash over herself. Shiro did not answer, so she forced her eyes open as she turned to face him. "Hey, what n-"
Shiro was gone.
Everyone was gone, everything was gone. There was only blackness around her now.
Sakura panicked, quickly standing to her feet and reaching for a kunai. Had this all been a trick? Was this a genjutsu, perhaps? She pressed her hands together and tried to force her chakra from her system, but she couldn't feel her chakra anymore. It was like she'd been cut from it completely.
"Hey!" She called out, desperately. "What the hell is going on, what have you done to me?"
She turned, and then she saw the obsidian stone again.
It was large, towering over her, at least twenty feet in height. Despite the darkness around her, Sakura could see her reflection within the stone. She saw the frightened look in her eyes, saw her hands shakily clutching her kunai close to her chest, her legs shifted into a battle stance. And she saw a mark at the center of her forehead, a mark that spread outwards and began to cover her face in strange stripes and circles, downwards across her neck and eventually spreading across her entire body.
And then Sakura saw something creeping up on her reflection, long twisting vines that wrapped around her arms and legs and pulled her back in a sudden, jerking motion, twisting everything out of her view.
Then she saw herself sitting cross-legged before the altar, Shiro next to her, and Sakura had been quiet for a while now, was she alright? That man hadn't done something to her, had she? She reached out towards herself, but Shiro turned and put a finger to his lips.
"It would be unwise to disturb her, Sai. Jashin has blessed her with visions. If you wake her now, we will need to start the process over again."
She was looking through Sai's eyes.
Of course, that was what had always happened when the visions occurred, looking through the eyes of another, believing herself to be that person until the vision had passed. She had seen through Sai and Gaara before, seen through others too, others she didn't know, others she did know, but how? How was it possible? Could she see through anyone's eyes? And what of the visions of the past? (And what about the future?)
"Why don't we have such visions?" She heard herself, no, Sai ask aloud. "Can we not meditate and receive them as well?"
"You can." Shiro answered. "But as Sakura is Jashin's chosen, they will come more easily to her. She has many questions now, and they will take time to answer. I would suspect, as of now, she is currently looking through the eyes of one of you, so that Jashin may help her understand the nature of her visions."
"Through our eyes?"
"Precisely." She saw Shiro look Sai in the eyes, and Sakura could have sworn there was a knowing glint there, as though he knew she could hear this somehow. "All humans share chakra from one source. At the beginning of all things was the Rabbit Princess, Kaguya, and from her came Hagoromo and Hamura, and from they came all shinobi. So long as one bears the chakra inherited from the Rabbit Princess, so it is that they are connected to their fellows. So it is that we can understand each other. So it is that Jashin can allow us to see through each other's eyes. It is through this connection that Sakura likely watches us now."
Chakra from the Rabbit Princess...the mother of the Sage of Six Paths. Like the murals in Takigakure.
Sakura looked down suddenly, and saw that Sai was holding up his hands to reveal eight of his fingers outstretched.
"Well, if she's really seeing through our eyes, she'll know how many fingers I'm holding up when I ask her."
"No doubt about it." Shiro chuckled to himself. "As he has with all his priests, Jashin will show her the present. Then, as he has with all his chosen, Jashin will show her the past. It will take time, so I would get comfortable."
Shiro's voice echoed, and Sakura blinked, and the scene around her began to shift again, rapidly at first.
She saw familiar scenes, the battle that had taken place outside the temple, quickly interchanging viewpoints between herself, Sai, and Gaara. She saw the battle against Danzo, saw through Naruto's eyes, saw through Ino's eyes, saw even through Danzo's eyes as Naruto rushed down upon him with the full force of the Rasenshuriken and felt pain, blistering pain as the jutsu tore through his body.
She saw her battle against the masked man in the Uchiha compound, her battle against Itachi and Kisame, her battle against the Takigakure demons, her training with Onoki, her battle with Hiroshi...it was as if time was slowly rewinding and she was seeing her past through different perspectives, the perspectives of her friends, her enemies, everyone…
She saw five of her friends, shinobi she had grown up with, and she saw through Naruto's eyes as he promised her that he would bring Sasuke back. She saw through the eyes of each as they took on Orochimaru's henchmen in turn, and then the scene shifted and she was standing upon a great statue of Hashirama Senju, calling out Sasuke's name with all the fury and despair that she could manage.
And then she heard Sasuke's name being called behind her, and she was standing in turn on top of a great statute of Madara Uchiha, and she turned to see Naruto behind her, annoying, troublesome Naruto who just couldn't let things be, couldn't let him pursue what only Orochimaru could give.
She saw through each of their eyes as they charged each other, trading blow after blow, building chakra in their hands and roaring with unbridled rage and sorrow as they thrust their jutsu against each other.
"When I'm with you...I think it's kind of like having a brother."
"I can't bring you into this Naruto...this darkness is my burden to bear…"
It was dark, and though there was no rain there was a deep rumble of thunder in the distance that echoed even over the roar of the river. Across the river, he stood. He'd been expecting this, he'd been expecting him to come. This was the only way to show him. This was the only way to make him see.
And then Sakura was the man, and her heart ached as she saw him for the first time in a year, where had he been, where had he gone, and why had he suddenly shown up now after all this time, daring her to come find him out in the unclaimed wilds?
"Madara…" She whispered, knowing the man would hear her despite the roar around them.
The man turned and grinned, and she was seeing through his eyes again. She felt jubilation at seeing her partner's face again, seeing the one man who could contest him, the one man who had ever brought him joy and passion, the one man who could potentially understand…
She screamed out his name to the heavens, in a laughing, maniacal manner.
She spread her arms wide, as though inviting him to come closer. "I've found the answer!" She announced with glee. "The answer to everything, hidden within my clan's heritage stone! We can end this conflict forever! We can bring peace to the shinobi world and build the world into what we always desired! I have seen it! I know what I must do!"
The vision snapped in and out of focus, and she was Hashirama again, and had Madara gone absolutely mad? "Madara, what have you done?" She pleaded. "The Kyuubi will destroy the village if you allow it near! The village we worked to create!"
"The village means nothing now. None of it will matter. Once I have the power of the Tailed Beasts within me, I can wrest all the world under my thumb, and there will never be war again!"
He really had gone mad...and Sakura ached, for whatever had been left of Madara before his defeat at the hands of the Tsuchikage, whatever was left of her friend, it was gone now, gone beneath red, spiraling eyes…
"No, Madara." She shook her head. "This won't bring peace. This will only make you a tyrant. Come home, Madara. Come home and stand by my side and let us do this right!"
But she knew, then, that Madara would not come. Madara had been lost.
Sakura saw battle through the eyes of the two men, a great, ferocious battle that was unlike anything she'd ever experienced in her lifetime. She felt power flow through her fingertips and forests raised at her command, she felt chakra bleed into her eyes and the Kyuubi bowed beneath her will. She swung her gunbai, and she swung her massive sword, and she clashed with herself through the men, again and again, until exhaustion bled into her and she felt that if she took another step that she might drop dead from the effort of it, but she forced chakra into her limbs and moved even when her body would not.
She couldn't take on Madara and the Kyuubi, she thought to herself as she watched through Hashirama's eyes. She would have to rely on her after all.
And then Sakura saw through the eyes of a third person, and she painted a seal upon her stomach and pushed chakra through the matrices, creating a vortex of power that would even draw the damned Kyuubi in. If she was to be the wife of the great Hokage, she would earn her place through will and blood. She was Mito Uzumaki, the Princess of the Land of Whirlpools and master of the sealing arts, and not even the Kyuubi would resist her will. She screamed in triumph and agony as the beast was pulled into her body, and she felt the white hot rage of chakra seeping into her own, fueling her and poisoning her all at once.
She felt betrayal as she saw through Madara's eyes once again. Hashirama hadn't come alone, he'd brought her with him, and now the Kyuubi was gone and his body ached and his Sharingan was bleeding bleeding bleeding.
"I can do it, Hashirama…" He begged. "The Infinite Tsukuyomi can make the world perfect, don't you see? No more war, no more politics, nothing to stop us…"
"No, Madara." She was Hashirama again, tears clouding her vision but not her will. "That's not peace. It is a lie. An illusion."
"Then kill me now. Kill me here and now or I will make my dreams a reality until my dying breath comes, and I will not allow you nor anyone else to stop me."
Sakura closed her eyes and swung her blade.
When she opened her eyes again, she was Asura Otsutsuki, and her blade stopped just inches from her brother's throat. She couldn't do it, she couldn't kill him, no matter how far he had fallen, no matter how dark he had become. Her heart still ached, and she turned away from him.
"Go," She demanded. "And do not make this mistake again."
And then she was Indra Otsutsuki, bitter with defeat and seething with malice. If she could not be her father's successor, then she would build something far greater than anything Asura could build, if only to prove him wrong. She would father a clan that would surpass the world in skill and talent and strength, and one day when his clan ruled everything, then would his spirit be allowed rest.
She blinked and she was Hagoromo Otsutsuki, and before her were nine beasts, made from the chakra she had stored within her for decades, now given life and mind.
"There is darkness in humanity, and we may never be free of it. We must guide them down the path of peace."
She named each of the beasts in turn, giving them each a single task: protect and guide humanity away from their hate and greed. Make man worthy of the power they will one day bear.
She blinked again, and she was still Hagoromo Otsutsuki, younger now, and before her laid a mighty beast that towered above mountains and wailed with a screech that echoed through her bones and brought fear and pain to her heart. At her side was her brother, and they each cried out as they wrestled the monster's power under control, deep into the seal that Hagoromo had crafted.
Mother, she thought, I am sorry.
Sakura blinked, and she was Kaguya.
Before her was a great and mighty tree with branches that reached towards the heavens with still vigor, and its petals gently swayed with the breeze, their pink skin reflecting the light of the sun beyond it. In her hands, she held a large fruit that pulsed and echoed. She had already taken a bite, a sweet, sweet bite that had spread warmth through her fingers and toes and made her feel powerful and strong.
She took another bite of the fruit, and then another, not at all afraid of the power beginning to seep into her. The fruit was too delicious, too sweet.
She was dancing, the nobles of the land twirling around her and vying for her favor, she of the Great New Magic, she who could summon water with a gesture and breathe fire from her lungs.
She was pregnant, twins kicking within her belly, and she glowed with the pride of a new mother who would one day hold her children in her arms and see what gifts they had been blessed with.
There was fire around her, fire and death and those who would take her children, those who would take her and use her for their own twisted, selfish greed, humanity was the same, humanity was always the same.
She looked towards the moon and her eyes bled with power, reflecting her vision upon the world and drawing each of them under her will.
There would be peace.
There would always be peace.
She was Goddess and Mother and Queen, and her sons would be safe.
She was betrayed.
Her sons stood before her, pulling her power from her, ripping it from her body.
"I am sorry, Mother." Each of them cried, and she did not understand, how could they not understand, if they set humanity free, the darkness, the misery would overtake the world once again.
She screamed in agony for the fate her children would suffer, screamed for the ones she had lost, screamed for the ones that would be lost, screamed for what was to come and what had always been.
And then Sakura, the real, real Sakura, opened her eyes and wept.