COTKB2: Chapter 2: Reality

This content rated appropriate for audience: M for Mature Teens

This entry is part 3 of 18 in the series COTK: Book 2: Fumbling Toward Agency
Reading Time: 16 minutes

Black hatred stabbed through him. Naruto hated the traitors; renegades turned on their gods. The creation of their forefathers had been a mistake.

Two unwelcome creations looked down at him from the clouds, hundreds of miles above the surface of the world. They were destroyers, repulsive reapers of life, who took perverse pleasure in the agony they wrought.

Unlike the arachnoid creations of Naruto’s world, the destroyers were humanoid in stature. Hazel-colored horns jutted from above their ears, curving over their heads, giving them a demonic appearance. One looked upon Naruto with repugnance, while the other seemed almost bored.

A cold fury thrummed through Naruto’s veins. The vast forest trembled under the agitated blows of his tails: a sea of green dotted with the occasional purple island as a Lycaena tree was mixed in with its more mundane counterparts. His one red eye blazed. Nine concentric black circles streamed behind one of nine tomoe rotating about his pupil.

But his anger could not entirely drown out his fear. The arrival of the destroyers heralded the end of his time, and resistance was inevitably futile. He had sworn to fight until he could fight no more, and so he would. He would make them remember him.

It began as the two figures descended from the sky, their long white hair and ashen kariginu robes unaffected by the strong winds. Naruto drew on his power, feeling the life of the world hum to the tune of his authority.

The pale eyes of the destroyers passed over him, their gaze on a city dozens of miles away. Naruto didn’t know the name of his creation’s home, but it didn’t matter. Hundreds of thousands lived within, and their fear was palpable. Screams of terror echoed distantly in his ears as his blue spider-like creations noticed the two destroyers floating above them.

Naruto’s heart ached as he felt the concentrations of his power flee their homes, flooding into the azure forest, trampling the amber grass.

They had not asked for this.

A destroyer lifted an open palm in the air, and Naruto’s eye widened. He felt the weight of the destroyer’s authority as it manipulated reality itself. A hurricane of flame sprung to life, resting in their hand. It grew, and within seconds had blotted out the sun and obscured the city in shadow.

The flames plummeted, and the city vanished beneath it. Naruto fell to his knees, cratering the earth as he gripped his head. Countless screams of intense agony filled his mind, silenced in an instant. Naruto felt part of himself wither and die, taking the last of his reason with it.

His roar shook the mountains. Every footfall carved canyons into the landscape, as he charged the destroyers, and entire forests were leveled in a swish of his tails. How dare they play with his creation’s lives! He would make them pay!

With every step, Naruto covered miles. His anger grew tenfold with each fireball the destroyers hurled toward cities a hundred miles off. His vision reddened as life after life vanished from his spirit.

“Leave them alone!”

Naruto’s roar shook the earth, and the air reverberated with the force of his authority. Gigantic roots broke free from beneath the surface, shattering mountains and forming tsunamis across the world. Volcanoes prematurely blew their caps, the balance of the world in turmoil. Naruto’s eye spun as the roots soared skyward, piercing the clouds. Titanic chunks of dirt and stone fell to the planet’s surface as the roots grew.

As if seeking to wrap his hand around the destroyers, Naruto reached out for them. He closed his hand, and the roots bowed inward, plummeting toward the demons from above. He would crush them! He would make them suffer for the innumerable creations they had murdered!

In the blink of an eye, his attack was nullified. The demons didn’t even turn, and the roots were shredded into a million bits by thousands of invisible wind blades. Naruto bellowed in pain, every cut inflicted on his own body.

He had never felt pain before.

It was an odd sensation, an overwhelming one, and ultimately terrifying. Naruto had expected it, he had seen the atrocities the demon’s caused elsewhere, but it hadn’t felt so intimate.

The ten tails attached to the base of his spine waved back and forth in panic. He glared at the destroyers, who didn’t so much as turn to meet his challenge. He was but a screaming, weak infant to them. Something to be dealt with eventually, but not worthy of their full attention. The amused smirks upon their faces drove him mad.

Agony drowned out every thought as more hellfire fell upon his creations. The destroyers were playing with his world like a child playing with its food.

“I refuse,” Naruto growled, his tongue coarse. He hurtled across the landscape, churning hills and mountains into the air. “I.. refuse!”

Naruto barreled into an enormous mountain range in his way, shattering it beneath the weight of his titanic form. His tails writhed, savagely hurling chunks of stone in every direction. He barely noticed the encumbrance, his singular eye fixed on the floating pale figures high above.

He fell to all fours, his head reared back at a grotesque angle. His tails arched over his back. Human-like hands at the end of each tail gripped an invisible sphere in front of him. He would obliterate the traitors!

Obey me.

Tight beams of light, numbering in the millions, streaked across the sky, vacating their hosts for hundreds of miles, slamming into the sphere. Plants, trees, animals, and even his sentient creations collapsed as their life forsook them. It was everything Naruto could muster. The energy converged before his gaping maw, embraced and molded by his tails into a single, all-encompassing attack.

The trailing lines of radiant green light drew the demon’s attention to him. They looked upon him with benign interest, unperturbed by the implausible power he’d amassed.

Under his authority, the energy had taken the shape of a midnight black sphere, utterly featureless. Life wrongfully twisted to bring about the inverse of his divine purpose: death. Naruto flexed the weight of his authority over life itself, and the darkness shrank, compressed beyond what reality should have allowed.

He swallowed the sphere.

The fairer of the two demons smirked at him. Naruto’s eye narrowed as he fought to maintain control over the chaos energy he’d created. He had seen this destroyer before, in the death throes of another. His traditional nobleman’s attire of a white kariginu hunting robe, baggy pants, and tengu geta hadn’t changed. A transparent hagoromo veil covered his face, but his mocking smile was plain as the day-star.

Naruto nearly suffocated on his fury. He was no challenge to the abominable traitors, but he would profane the matriarch before he died silently!

The pressure screamed to be released, and Naruto’s jaw snapped open. A beam of cold darkness shot across the sky, covering the distance to the destroyers instantly. The concentrated chaos and death engulfed the destroyers, but Naruto did not close his mouth. His gigantic singular eye spun, the tomoe rotating in counter directions to one another.

He could still sense them.

His spirit cried out in agony as he tightened the beam with his jaws. The energy fought against him, but his authority over life reigned supreme. As the midnight black beam condensed, the enraging smirk of the leaner demon greeted Naruto.

Almost casually, the demon absorbed Naruto’s attack into his pale open palm. His transparent veil wasn’t even disheveled by Naruto’s attack, and the divide in power couldn’t have been more apparent. He was a trifle more than energy to them, futilely fighting for his life.

Naruto roared. The beam somehow grew darker as he poured his remaining life force into it desperately. The destroyer’s eyes glowed with a brilliant white light, and their features hardened. They no longer played with him; they would absorb him and move on to the next world. He would be nothing more than an afterthought.

Panic and fear bloomed in Naruto’s chest as the traitors began to slowly descend toward him, absorbing his attack the entire time. He couldn’t let them get any closer. The beam ended abruptly, vanishing into thin air. The energy he’d summoned spent, exhaustion washed over him. He stumbled backward over the landscape, his tails lashing wildly.

The destroyer dropped his hand contemptuously. Naruto roared a warning that he was not to be trifled with, but the destroyers paid him no mind. Their descent grew in speed with each passing second, and Naruto hurried to put distance between them. He refused to concede, but he was not foolish enough to engage the destroyers head-on.

Naruto didn’t even have time for fear before he was launched through the air. His divine Rinne-Sharingan informed him of the disappearance of one of the destroyers after something struck his chest. The surface of his world blurred beneath him as he soared for miles.

A split second before he collided with a mountain range, Naruto spotted the destroyer who’d hit him. The demon floated in mid-air, his fist still extended as he followed Naruto with his pale eyes.

The ancient stone mountains shattered beneath his titanic humanoid form but didn’t terminate his momentum. He careened wildly through the air for another mile before hitting the earth again. The force of his impact cratered the landscape.

Naruto groaned as his forged form ached. It took concentrated effort to hold his body together, but he managed to get to his feet. His singular eye blazed with a bright red glow as he turned toward the destroyers.

His wrath was silenced by an arrow of heavenly white light. It streaked through the sky and pierced his left hand. The force threw him to the ground once more, propelling chunks of stone and earth in every direction. Naruto roared in pain as he grabbed the arrow. It was immovable, unresponsive to his authority.

Naruto whirled toward the destroyers, his jaw wide. I will not let myself be consumed!

Another arrow blasted the clouds to pieces, shredding mountain tops as it passed and tightening the bands of fear around Naruto’s throat. Striking his other hand, the attack slammed it against the ravaged ground.

Ten more arrows pierced his tails in quick succession, pinning him against the base of the destroyed mountains. Panic tightened his chest, and he tried to struggle, but he couldn’t even merge with the earth. No part of him responded to his control, and he had to wait and watch as the destroyers appeared from thin air, floating hundreds of feet above him.

His anger fled in the face of the demons as they each raised their palms. He swallowed his fear, roaring defiantly in the faces of death. No technique was activated, and he felt no one’s authority, but his power began to rebel. He fought desperately against it, but he was a young child battling gods.

Despite his commands, his body began to dissolve, losing its shape as the life within it was absorbed. Within moments, he was little more than a liquid mass of brown molted skin. His eye blazed with recalcitrant hatred until it too disappeared. The last thing he saw the indifferent expression on the destroyer’s face. As if killing Naruto was tiresome. He had never stood a chance.

He’d always wondered what the last seconds of life were like. Sensation decayed bit by bit, his hearing the second to go after his sight and then touch, followed shortly by the pain permeating every fiber of his being. The last to go was his bond with the world.

And then everything was gone.

Somewhere in the Land of Storms, EN.

The burning need to breathe registered first, and Naruto recoiled. His arms flailed frantically as he searched for purchase, anything to brace himself against and escape. His hand hit something hard, and Naruto lifted his head from the puddle of water.

He hacked up the water in his lungs, his chest heaving as his arms shook. His eyes were wide, although he didn’t remember having opened them. The mirror reflection of his own face greeted him in the uneven surface of the puddle. It was raining, and the droplets sent a thousand tiny ripples across the surface.

Unsteadily, Naruto pushed himself to his knees. He didn’t trust his legs to support him. His lungs burned tortuously, but his focus was elsewhere. He’d raised his head and now stared through wet hair at the violent sky above.

I saw a world — my world…dying. His breath sounded harsh to his own ears, almost drowned out by the thrum of raindrops striking leaves. He was in a forest he didn’t recognize, but it felt unimportant. For some reason, the world he’d fought to defend had mattered to him. The deaths had felt like a part of him.

Naruto’s shaky breath quickened. I don’t understand. I cared? Why!

His breath caught in his throat. Rain streamed down his face as he stared into the murky dark clouds. His clothes were soaked, but he didn’t notice.

I died…

There was no question that he had died; it had been too real to be just an illusion or some terrible nightmare. He’d felt his life wrenched from his grasp. Naruto shuddered. The disinterest in the eyes of the demons deeply disturbed him. He had fought with everything he had, and he hadn’t even rustled their clothes.

Swallowing, Naruto attempted to get to his feet. His breath came in uneven, sporadic bursts as his legs trembled beneath him. He nearly fell back to his knees, but he managed to stay standing. His body ached with a deep-seated throbbing pain. It was worse than training for three days straight with Baki.

His turbulent emotions were not helped by the unfamiliarity of his surroundings. The gloomy forest loomed in every direction, and Naruto’s vision was restricted even further by the heavy downpour. The ground was a soggy mess of mud and congealed pools vaguely resembling puddles that reminded him more of small ponds.

He tried to shield his eyes as he turned in place, his feet sloshing in the viscous mud. Wet clothes clinging to his shivering form, he searched in vain for some answer in the despondent scene, but nothing met his gaze. How did I get here?

Naruto remembered walking to the Kazekage’s mansion to eat his usual lunch. After which, he would have gone to the library, but he hadn’t made it that far. He’d been attacked by… Kumo Shinobi? He questioned his own memory. Why had Kumo been present in the Land of Wind? Naruto’s eyes widened as he remembered. Gaara had defended him, killing all of the Shinobi with his sand.

Gaara, where is Gaara? Naruto whirled sharply, his long wet hair slapping against his cheek. He froze as he spotted a dark mass twenty paces away, seemingly a fallen log at first glance. It lay half-buried in the muck, but Naruto knew what it was.

“Gaara!”

He slipped and slid across the deceptively deep mud in his hurry to reach the redhead. Losing his balance, he put too much weight on his right foot and careened wildly. His instincts finally kicked in, and chakra surged through the soles of his feet. Traction blossomed where there had been none before.

After a second to regain his balance and once again steady his breathing, Naruto carefully made his way across the treacherous ground. Gaara was genuinely buried in the mud as if he’d fallen there, and Naruto wondered if he had. The redhead’s hair was soaked and flat to his skull, giving him a formal look Naruto had never imagined the Jinchūriki capable of. Gaara’s peaceful expression would have made a morbid scene if not for his chest’s slow rise and fall.

Naruto wasn’t sure what he would have done if Gaara had been dead. Although, now that he knew the Jinchūriki was alive, he still wasn’t sure what to do. Gaara had protected him from the Kumo Shinobi, for which he was grateful. How they’d gone from a street in Suna, surrounded by enemies, to being in the middle of nowhere Naruto couldn’t fathom.

No answers would come from waiting, and he turned his attention to Gaara’s unconscious form. A cursory scan failed to reveal any obvious wounds, which was what he’d feared. A pulse of chakra to his eyes activated the Byakugan, and Naruto’s vision shifted.

Gaara never slept because the demon inside him would break free, Temari had said. With no injuries that could keep Gaara down despite the demon’s power, it meant something was wrong. Naruto’s fears proved to be founded as he observed the redhead’s chakra pathways with his Byakugan.

Trickles of pure blue flowed through Gaara’s body, but it was barely enough to keep him alive. From his chakra studies in his father’s palace and the Suna libraries, he knew so little chakra over an extended period would irrevocably damage Gaara for life. His network would shut down from disuse if the flow of his chakra was not restored.

Chakra condensed in Naruto’s right hand in preparation to perform a Gentle Fist strike. He hadn’t perfected the technique to the point of being able to use it in combat. But he’d deduced how to block and unblock tenketsu from Baki’s surprisingly detailed descriptions of the Hyūga Clan’s techniques. It had been up to him to figure it out from there.

As was to be expected, most of the techniques Baki had described were far too complicated for him to recreate. The act of injecting chakra into another’s pathways through his fingertips had been the first technique Naruto had figured out.

His careful scan of Gaara’s pathway found no blockade, and Naruto felt himself start to panic. There was no way to know how long Gaara had been like this.

Naruto turned his Byakugan to Gaara’s chakra flame, which rested just beneath his navel, and was where all lines of the chakra network connected. Gaara’s flame was weaker than he remembered it and the cause was evident.

A significant amount of the Jinchūriki’s chakra was being sucked directly from the source, ignoring his pathways entirely. Naruto carefully adjusted the range of his Byakugan as he followed the stream. His eyes widened as the chakra came to terminate in a familiar sealing tag on Gaara’s forehead.

Who sealed him? Naruto wondered. Only Rasa, the Suna Elite, and the Gaara’s Shinobi detail carried that seal to his knowledge. Naruto stood, shaking his head. If one of them had sealed Gaara, why had he been left in the middle of a forest? How long had Gaara been sealed?

With a surge of chakra, Naruto’s vision expanded dramatically. He cast his powerful eyes across vast swaths of the forest, searching for anything of note. The landscape was mildly uneven, with slight hills and divuts breaking up what would otherwise be featureless land. To the north, a river raged by, its torrents aided by the downpour. Everything else was simply more of the same: an unremarkable forest with seemingly no end, obscured in gloom by great rolling storm clouds overhead.

Where am I? His eyes burned as though he’d pressed them against red-hot iron, but Naruto endured, pushing the Byakugan to its limits. The edge of his sight expanded drastically, but only the same dismal forest met his inquisitive gaze. How did I get here? Did Gaara carry me?

The pain soon became too much to bear, and Naruto blinked through tears as he released the Byakugan. Raindrops pelted the top of his head, running down his hair and face.

I fought demons. Naruto thought. Was it a dream? A nightmare?

The terror that had overwhelmed him at first had lessened. But he could still vividly remember the feeling of a hundred thousand lives vanishing beneath the hellfire, taking a piece of himself with them. No, it had been real. The fury he had felt, the terror, the fear and hatred, it couldn’t have been something so spurious as a nightmare.

He’d hated the destroyers with every fiber of his being, loathed and abhorred them. He had called them traitors, turncoats, and betrayers, but he didn’t know why. What had they betrayed? Naruto was sure he’d never seen the white demons before, yet he’d known them.

How did I fight them? Naruto wondered. He looked down at his hand, remembering the feeling of the power he’d wielded—the sensation of a mountain collapsing beneath his hand. I had so much power…but it was nothing. How strong are the destroyers?

Naruto closed his hand and turned to Gaara. He wouldn’t get any answers from standing here in the rain, and the seal on Gaara’s forehead needed to be removed before it damaged him permanently. Why the Jinchūriki had been sealed, and by whom didn’t matter. He needed Gaara’s help, and Naruto hoped the redhead would have answers to at least some of his questions.

Crouching down beside Gaara, Naruto caught the edge of the tag with his finger.

[You should leave that on.]

Naruto leaped to his feet, whirling toward the voice, his Byakugan blazing. It had sounded like it was right behind him, but there was no one there. He reached for a Kunai in a pouch that wasn’t there either. Why hadn’t he been carrying it when the Kumo Shinobi attacked?

[I’m right here.]

Naruto froze. Slowly, unsure and afraid of what he would see, he looked down at his left arm. It had moved by itself and was now raised in front of him, fingers splayed. He stared for a half minute in complete silence, uncomprehending of what was before him.

The entirety of his arm was coated in a shining jet-black substance. It looked like liquid armor and covered both his skin and clothing. Despite that, he couldn’t feel it on his arm, and if not for his eyes, he wouldn’t have known it was there at all.

With the aid of his Byakugan, Naruto followed the liquid along his arm and onto his shoulder. His breath caught in his throat. The mysterious substance covered more than just his arm. The entire left side of his body was coated in it, even his face, ending at the exact midpoint of his body.

Hesitantly, Naruto lifted his exposed hand to his face where the black covered his left eye. A mere inch away, Naruto paused, watching with enthralled fear through his Byakugan as a yellow eye opened.

The circular eye was shortly followed by a jagged-toothed grin that perfectly covered the left side of Naruto’s mouth.

“W-what…” Naruto stuttered. He stared at his own face in disbelief, struggling to comprehend the face staring back at him. “What are you!?”

[I am Zetsu.]

It was the same voice he’d heard before, but the half-mouth didn’t move. It sounded like it came from everywhere. Naruto fought to restrain his panic. The black mass, Zetsu it had called itself, wasn’t hurting him. However, it had moved his arm. It can control me.

Naruto didn’t know if he could resist or if it was even possible to pry the liquid off, but until he tried, he was at its mercy.

[I am living chakra, given form by your mother with the purpose to serve you.] The voice continued. Naruto shakily ran his bare fingers along the black liquid covering his left arm. It felt smooth to his touch, impossibly so.

The fear he’d felt only moments before was forgotten as he finally processed the words of the voice.

“My… mother created you?” Naruto breathed. He could barely remember his mother, and Torio had never told him much about her.

[Yes.]

Naruto stopped.

“How is that possible?” Naruto asked. “My mother wasn’t a Shinobi. Father said she never learned how to use chakra.”

The voice hesitated, and Naruto’s eyes narrowed. He was still hopelessly at a disadvantage against an unknown enemy, and his mind searched for a solution. Prying what seemed to be essentially living liquid off his body wasn’t feasible, which left him non-physical options only.

His assessment of options was interrupted by the voice. Whereas before it had an amused tone, it sounded miserable now, almost regretful.

[Yura Sakamoto is not your mother, Naruto.]

The disarray of thoughts and outlandish strategies he’d been sorting through bled through motionless fingers. Naruto stared blankly at nothing, the thrum of the rain filling his ears. His voice was so quiet it was almost imperceptible to his own ears. “No…

Despite how much he fought it, Naruto could not prevent the pieces as they clicked together in his mind. He hadn’t believed the voice, but he’d applied its words to his life regardless. He had always known, hadn’t he?

The voice sounded hesitant, worried. [Under my guidance, Yura and Torio raised you to-]

“No!” Naruto shouted, cutting off the voice. Anger boiled within his chest, pouring through him like molten lava. “No! I don’t believe it!”

But he did believe it. His father had lied to him. It all made sense.

[Naruto…]

Naruto tried to dig his fingernails into the black ooze covering his shoulder like a man possessed, but his grip found no purchase. His rage grew with each passing second, and he drew heavily on his chakra.

“Get away from me!” Naruto screamed.

Gripping the left side of his throat, Naruto tried to pry his fingers underneath the edge of the liquid to no avail. He felt himself choking, but it didn’t matter. More chakra surged through his limb as he strained harder against the unyielding fluid darkness. Tears formed in his eyes, but he didn’t let go.

[I cannot leave you.] The voice said, its tone heavy with concern. [Without me, you will not be able to-]

“Get off of me!” Naruto roared, his voice indirectly enhanced by the chakra swelling through every pathway in his body. With a concentrated effort of will, Naruto forced all his chakra to the left side of his body. Expelling energy through one’s skin was a simple feat, but holding it just beneath the skin was far more challenging. His chakra resisted being compressed so tightly, but Naruto bore the pain.

Within a second, the pressure had grown beyond his control. It took the path of least resistance. Out.

Naruto was hurled through the rain as the black liquid covering his body exploded violently, innumerable jet-black chunks flying in all directions. He hit the ground on his side and slid for a few paces.

The sudden loss of so much chakra left Naruto lightheaded and highly exhausted. Still, he forced himself to his feet. His Byakugan had faded away, lacking enough chakra to sustain it, and color had returned to his sight.

He peered through his own muddied and matted hair, trying to spot the varying sizes of black chunks nearby. Naruto didn’t believe he’d killed the creature. He probably only had a few minutes before it reassembled itself.

He needed to wake Gaara.

Naruto only made it a few steps toward Gaara’s motionless form. One of the larger chunks of black ooze had appeared on the ground in front of him. He backed up, watching with wide eyes as bits of shapeless blackness merged before him. It quickly began to grow in size.

“Stay away from me!” Naruto screamed. He nearly tripped over his own feet in the thick mud in his hurry to flee.

Zetsu finished reassembling himself as Naruto disappeared into the forest. Two yellow eyes opened in the black blob, only slightly larger than the average pillow. It stared through the rain where Naruto had gone… and turned away.

Every inch across the mud took far more effort than it should have, but eventually, Zetsu drew close enough to the redhead. A black tendril extended from its amorphous form, which Zetsu embedded in the boy’s arm.

Within moments, the black mass disappeared entirely as it flowed along the tendril and into the unconscious Jinchūriki.

Chapter Navigation<< COTKB2: Chapter 1: Defiance
COTKB2: Chapter 3: Tranquility >>
Total Word Count: 4817 words

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