A number of little black rods were scattered around his feet, seeming to have survived the blast. The little rods Pein had worn as facial piercings. They might well be made of something indestructible if even that hadn’t been enough to destroy them.
He could see faint strands chakra coming off of them, reaching in parallel into the wall of the crater. Naruto picked one up to examine it as Hinata and Sasuke dusted themselves off.
“Are you guys alright?” he asked.
“The fuck was that technique?” Sasuke asked.
Hinata looked around. “He’s—Pein’s gone, right?”
The strand of chakra faded away again as Naruto held the rod in his hand. He pulled the bandages down from his eyes to see it properly.
“Yeah, he’s gone.”
Sasuke craned his neck to look at Naruto’s new eye. “You replaced my present already, huh?”
“It’s still your eye, I think, actually,” Naruto said. “You should be able to get yourself a rinnegan too, from mine, since you’re an Uchiha. I can show you how, later.”
Naruto picked up another one of the rods, and saw its chakra strand fade away too. It came back when he put the first one back down on the ground. They seemed to be pointing toward something far away, up through the ground.
“What’s that?” Sasuke asked
“Um… I’m not sure yet,” Naruto said.
He scaled the side of the pit and put the rod down on the surface of what remained of Rain village. The strand of chakra pointed off into the distance, rising slightly off the ground as it stretched further away.
“Hey Hinata, you can see this, right? With your byakugan?” he called.
Hinata and Sasuke came climbing up behind him, the dirt shifting beneath their feet.
“I see something…” she said, tensing her eyes to look. “It goes through that house and out the other side.”
Naruto split off a shadow clone to retrieve the other rods, and a few more to start spreading himself around again for safety’s sake. Hinata took the rod when he offered it, and in her hands the strand vanished too.
“What are you looking at?” Sasuke asked.
“There’s a little strand of chakra like spider’s silk, coming out of all of these little rods. They go away when we touch them, but they’re all pointing off that way,” he said.
He spread them around, estimating by their gradients where they would converge.
“They’re pointing at something a few stories aboveground,” he said, “and maybe… a few miles that way.”
“…Shit,” Sasuke said. “Do you think he’s got more of those bodies stashed away?”
“He might,” Naruto said. “I don’t know how this rinnegan thing works yet, but he might not have realized he would need more than six today. We’d better go there—or, I’d better, anyway.”
“C’mon man,” Sasuke said, “I want to see what’s going on as much as you do. If you don’t need us to fight anymore then we can just leave clones behind.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Naruto said. “You should both make some clones and start spreading yourselves out, too, just to be safe. I’ve got chakra control now, so I should be able to transfer chakra to your clones and help you keep the technique up. And sorry about that whole fight, just now… that was a little tougher than I’d expected.”
“Shouldn’t you wait a little, before you go?” Hinata asked. “If you’re not ready, and you have to fight again…”
“This might be my only chance to catch him,” Naruto said. “Things will be a lot harder if I let him get away now. I’m already pretty well regenerated, anyway, and you two should be safe with clones. He might not even know we’re coming, since whatever these rods are pointing at doesn’t seem to have moved yet.”
Sasuke gave his toad over to a clone for safe keeping, and the three of them left the crater behind.
One of Naruto’s clones reached their target up ahead, and dispelled a clone to describe what he saw.
“Ah, I found him…” Naruto said. “I don’t think he’s trying to run.”
“How many bodies?” Sasuke asked.
“Just one, by the look of it,” Naruto said, “but it’s strange… he’s just sitting there, slumped forward on a big throne with a bunch of these rods sticking out of him. Like a pin-cushion.”
“Could be a trap,” Sasuke said. “Are you sure it’s even him?”
“Well, he has darker hair, but that’s definitely the rinnegan in his head. We should be safe with clones, anyway. I’ll try destroying the tower he’s in, first, then we can go from there.”
“Maybe he’s giving up,” Hinata said. “He might just want to surrender.”
“I guess that’s possible…” Naruto said. “He still has valuable information, though, actually, so, yeah, I probably should try to talk to him first.”
Naruto’s clones were waiting on the roof of the tower when they arrived. It seemed to be made of the same black material as the little rods. He’d already attempted to drill through the roof, but it was completely impervious to anything he could do to it. Even the floors inside looked like they were constructed from a single massive piece of the stuff. The only obvious weakness was the gap around the doorframe on the lowest level—even the hinges and the locking mechanism inside were solid black, and there was no other way in.
Naruto hopped down to the ground, landing on the grass outside the door. He could see Pein inside, a few floors above; he looked weak and emaciated, like someone on their deathbed. He wasn’t moving. Maybe this was his real real body.
“I don’t see an easy way to force our way in…” Naruto said, feeling around the surface with his hands.
Sasuke folded his arms. “So what now? We gonna have to lay a fucking siege?”
“Uh, hold on a second…” Naruto said, flipping through his notebook. “Yeah, my notes say here that Orochimaru’s warehouse had an infiltration technique that lets you turn into water… so I might be able to go learn that one real quick, once my clones have reached that far. Doesn’t look like it’s water-tight.”
“Blue-hair’s still alive, right? Konan?” Sasuke asked. “She probably slips her paper bits through the gaps to get in. Let’s go find her.”
“Oh yeah, I guess she can’t have gone far,” Naruto said. “We should get your rinnegan working, though, if we’re going to have to wait around anyway. You’ll need to swap my old eye in, from Hinata’s head, and then have some quick surgery done in your guts. It should be safer now that she can take her time, but you’ll have to dispel your clones, too.”
Sasuke shook his head, laughing. “Man, what a fucking day…”
“Yeah. It’s not over yet, though.”
“I know,” he said. “Maybe once I get the rinnegan I’ll have the chakra control to figure out Itachi’s tsukiyomi technique. That’ll get Konan to let us in once we find her, at least.”
Abruptly, the black door swung open on its hinges.
They turned to look inside, but nobody was there to have opened it.
“…That was weird,” Naruto said.
“I think this black shit lets him communicate,” Sasuke said. “His bodies all seemed to work together without even speaking to each other… He might be watching us through the walls right now.”
“Creepy…” Naruto said. He tapped on the surface with his finger. “Hey Pein, if you can hear us, we’re coming up.”
Naruto saw him giving no response, inside.
The trio entered with caution, accompanied by a few extra shadow clones to aid in sending messages quickly.
The interior was plain, undecorated save for the spiral staircase that led to Pein’s throne, upstairs. They ascended.
A reservoir of dark liquid had been built into the wall above the throne, feeding down into his mouth through a tube. Another pipe beneath his seat led to a pit full of waste. He might not have moved from the seat in months.
“Okay, here we are, Pein,” Naruto said, trying to catch his attention. “…Are you alright up there? You look… unwell.”
“…I am in mourning,” he replied, clearly alert.
“Oh,” Naruto said. “For… yourself? Do you want to surrender?”
“I can no longer hope to defeat you.”
“Oh,” Naruto said.
He didn’t actually think that was true, but Pein didn’t need to know that.
“Okay. Good… Do you have any other bodies I need to know about, anywhere else?”
“No. This is the last.”
“Um… do you have any way to prove that?”
Pein sighed. “Once you have consumed my mind and my memories, you will see it is true… The rinnegan may only be divided into six paths, and they are all destroyed, now.”
“Can the mind-reading be done without killing you right away?” Naruto asked. “It seemed kind of deadly to my clones.”
“Why delay the inevitable,” Pein said. “I can resist no longer.”
“Well you have rare powers, and I can’t un-kill you, so caution says I should learn more about what potential uses I might have for you before I destroy a valuable resource.”
“My chakra is exhausted. Lost with those you destroyed,” Pein said. “I am too weak to perform your shadow-clone technique, now.”
“Hmm… well, I’m not about to refill you,” Naruto said. “What if you just told me how to perform the six-path thing and I’ll try to make a seventh, myself. If I can’t, that’ll reassure me a little.”
Pein’s head lolled to one side. “If I must…” he said. “It will require six human corpses. And a seventh.”
A clone bit his tongue to spread the word.
“I’ll find some graves to dig up, then, but in the meantime, explain to me your plan to take out the jinchuuriki, and everything. I will read your mind eventually, so don’t lie.”
Pein closed his eyes, seemingly reluctant to bother replying.
“The nine jinchuuriki were an intolerable threat to the stability of the new age. I have placed the other eight in a purpose-built facility, in isolation. They are comatose, and would have remained so for the rest of their natural lives, overseen by a small team of elite medical ninja. Their tailed beasts would have been transferred to new hosts, in time, and the destructive power of a beast need never have been felt again.”
Naruto popped another clone to keep himself up to date. “That doesn’t actually sound like too bad an idea,” he said. “I’d been wondering what to do about the threat of the tailed beasts.”
“…If only I had known of your—your ludicrous water-clone trick before today… If I’d only known the beasts’ power could be so easily abused… he could have—he could have been brought back, by now…”
Pein looked like he was on the verge of tears.
“Are you, uh… are you suggesting that the rinnegan can actually raise the dead, then?” Naruto asked. “That thing about Madara was true?”
“Not Madara,” he sneered. “Yahiko! My friend, Yahiko… all this time, we could have—oh, and all from such an absurd little trick!”
“Ah… so, um, theoretically,” Naruto said, “would anything prevent Sasuke from resurrecting me when I die, if he had the rinnegan, and then me resurrecting him when he dies, in an infinite cycle?”
Pein shook his head. “There was a price—the cost of a life, in chakra. One-hundred and eight hours of unbroken channeling, with only your own reserves to draw upon… So quick I was to accept it as impossible to survive—so quickly I gave up on him, when I thought it would cost my life to bring him back…”
Sasuke wandered over to the wall, picking at the black material with the tip of his kunai.
“So, Sasuke would die when he raises me, because of the chakra cost, but then I can just re-raise him again, right? And I won’t lose my powers, or become too frail or anything?”
“You will be immortal as long as your friendship lasts… so I beg you now to have some patience. You will see everything I know when my mind is read,” Pein said. “Let us both hope, for the sake of this tormented world, that you shall someday acquire whatever grand insights you feared my rule would lack…”
“Oh, right. Yeah,” Naruto said. “Don’t worry about that. I’ve got some ideas.”
“You do, now?” Pein scoffed. “I suppose that ten entire minutes have passed. Please, enlighten me.”
“Well, it’s still just a rough idea, obviously, but I don’t want the system to have a single point of failure, in me; it should be able to work itself out even if I die. So I think I’m going to try to get rid of all this ninjutsu stuff, to start with.”
Pein laughed, coughing as the air caught in his throat. “Wipe out ninjutsu? It is only a tool that we use—it is the nature of men to fight! Without it, you would see civilians at war with sticks and stones.”
“I know, I know,” Naruto said, “even the ancient stories talk about war, I can’t help but think that theirs might have been a little less… perpetual, though… and all-engulfing. I mean, ninja live to fight—we train all our lives for it, we rise in position if we fight well enough—and we’re much better at it than civilians are, but if there wasn’t any ninjutsu, then even the jounin and the Kages would have to fight with the strength of their own muscles. They wouldn’t be strong enough to take out an entire classroom of genin on their own; they’d want to recruit every spare farmhand they had, but you can’t keep that up for long before the food runs out, and then the farmers have no choice but to go home, at least for a while. Ninja have nothing to do but fight, and when we’re not fighting we’re just busy preparing for the next war. We’re too strong not to fight. Whatever happened to the ancients, it was probably inevitable the day that this sort of destructive power fell into the hands of every careless child with the right set of parents. But the civilians could have a life outside of that—they could grow food and trade with their surplus, and they could rise up in the world through peaceful means alone, if there weren’t so many ninja on top to stop them. Maybe they’d still fight, if nobody stopped them—maybe they’d still go to war once in a generation to remind themselves how much it hurts, but from where we are right now, once in a generation doesn’t seem so bad. At least they won’t all have to sacrifice their entire lives to it. At least they won’t have so many orphans like us around, dying as soon as we’re old enough to have left a few orphans of our own behind.”
“And your wars of extermination will make no orphans?”
“Well—no, not wars… I was thinking a tax should do it.”
“Well I’ll probably want to think everything over for a thousand cumulative years before I actually try anything,” Naruto said, “but I want to be careful with this kind of power, so a gentle touch is probably the best way to go. A tax on marriages between two people with ninja blood should boost the rate of intermarriage with civilians, and ninja children are rare enough from those couples that our numbers should shrink pretty quickly, within a few generations. Maybe I can find some other ways to raise the relative status of civilians—the lack of a need for ninja to fight should help, but I’m wary of wiping out ninjutsu completely, if I can make its existence safer somehow. There might still be some productive use for it later, so—oh, uh… I think Konan’s back.”
Pein looked up; alert at the sound of her name, but the strength quickly left him. He slumped forward again. “…I do not wish to see her.”
“She’s almost here,” Naruto said. “My clones told her what’s going on, but she wants to see you for herself.”
Pein went silent.
A few moments later Konan could be heard entering through the door below, escorted by shadow clones.
Pein averted his eyes as she reached the top of the stairs. She folded her arms, shaking her head as if in disgust.
Naruto cleared his throat. “Um… maybe this isn’t the best time to ask, but do you two have any siblings or, uh, children, that I should know about?”
“What?” Konan said. “Has he been saying we—”
“No! No,” Pein said. “We never—no, we don’t have any children.”
Naruto raised an eyebrow. “…Are you completely sure? Because, you know… I will read your mind soon. And I can be negotiated with.”
“Go ahead and kill him,” Konan said. “Kill me too, while you’re at it. I don’t care anymore… He let the only thing I had left be destroyed.”
Pein winced. “Konan, please, be gracious… this jinchuuriki has found a way to grant himself unlimited chakra, as well as the rinnegan… Do you understand?”
Her eyes widened. She nodded.
Pein turned back to Naruto. “We were only ever friends, Konan and I. She yet maintains her love for Yahiko… His—his body was among the five that were destroyed in the blast.”
“The guy you couldn’t resurrect?” Naruto asked. “You—you took over his body after he died? So that Konan could be with him?”
“One so young cannot be expected to understand…”
“I, uh…” Naruto cleared his throat again. “I hesitate to ask, but… when you were pretending to be him, and you were alone with Konan, did you two ever… well… you know.”
Konan gripped her elbows, looking away.
“You needn’t fear any children,” Pein said. “You can confirm that for yourself, soon.”
“Bring him back,” Konan said. “Please, jinchuuriki. You could do it. I can cast the shadow clone technique; you can read my mind without killing me, you’ll see my intentions are good. It wouldn’t cost you a thing… please, bring him back to life.”
“Uh… I don’t…”
“Don’t decide yet,” she said. “Read my mind. Please.”
She formed the seals of the shadow clone technique, creating a second body next to her own.
“Place your hand on the flat of her forehead,” Pein said. “It is performed like a chakra transfer, in reverse.”
Naruto couldn’t think of many plausible ways for the idea to be dangerous if they were lying, and he had been meaning to read their minds anyway, with little but Pein’s instruction to go on.
He placed his hand on the forehead of Konan’s new shadow clone, and then pulled on her chakra in a way that looked right to his byakugan.
Her clone burst into smoke, and its memories came to him like they were from a clone of his own making—but this was an entire lifetime of new memories.
He saw her childhood in Rain—every humiliating experience and private thought she had ever had. He saw too what she knew of the rinnegan, the “six paths”. Pein was entirely as weak as he looked, now; none of this was a trap, to her knowledge. And his name wasn’t Pein, it was Nagato. He had been a sensitive boy, happy to follow Yahiko’s guidance. She felt bitter that he had lived while Yahiko died, and guilty that she would have preferred Nagato sacrifice himself to bring him back.
Konan knelt at Naruto’s feet, taking hold of his hand. “Please. You can see my intentions are good, now. All I want is to have him back.”
Naruto had seen it. He’d seen her planning this very moment, seconds ago. Falling to her knees, hoping to take advantage of his pity—her awareness that he would know exactly what she was doing, and then the hope that he would pity her all the more for it. Her genuine wish to have Yahiko back, and nothing else—assuming that the mind-reading was accurate, she had no thoughts for anything but her love.
She was a reserved person, usually. He could see it in her past—and he saw how difficult it had been for her to offer up her own mind for his examination, and how she had disregarded that pain for even the smallest chance that it might help her see him again.
Yahiko had been an unremarkable ninja, as far as Naruto could tell—a brash, idealistic sort of guy. It had been his dream in the first place to use the rinnegan to make peace.
“Sorry, Konan, but I don’t really think I should,” Naruto said. “As far as I can tell it would be harmless, but I don’t understand all of the potential repercussions of these things yet, and I can imagine it getting out of hand pretty quickly if I’m not careful. If I bring my friend Kakashi back, and then he wants to bring his friend Guy back, and Guy wants to bring some of his friends… at that rate, even if the world was a hundred times bigger we’d still run out of space pretty quickly, and then what do I do when the ones I’ve brought back start dying of old age again? Do I give them two lifetimes but not three? I’m not saying it’s inconceivable, but I don’t think I can start giving immortality to everyone yet, and there’s not much justification to give your friend special treatment. Maybe it is a good idea to boost our numbers a little, to help repopulate the world, though—maybe I’ll be able to bring everybody back, soon, but I can’t promise anything this early. I’ll find room somewhere, though—someday, I will. Once I’ve figured out how it all works, I’ll make everything better, and I’ll bring them all back, for good.”
Konan looked down at the floor.
She had expected him to refuse, and he’d seen in her the perverse hope that Nagato might now offer up his own life, voluntarily, to resurrect Yahiko—now that he wasn’t responsible for anything else. She knew it would be cruel to ask him, knowing that he had always been in love with her, but she would ask, if she had to. She was counting down the seconds, even now, waiting for him to make the offer on his own before she felt forced to request that he kill himself to make her happy. She hated herself for intending to do it, but she would do it anyway.
Pein lifted his head, looking at her.
“I’ll do it,” he said. “I’ll bring Yahiko back for you, Konan. If Naruto can allow that much.”
She feigned surprise at his suggestion. “Are you—are you sure? You don’t have to, Nagato…”
“I am already doomed,” he said. “At least in this way I can be of some use to you, before I die.”
Naruto winced at the display—it wasn’t really his business, though, and it would be valuable to observe the outcome of a resurrection first hand, to confirm that it would all work how he thought.
“I guess it would be okay…” he said.
Konan didn’t know anything that could threaten him, yet, like how he had created a chakra factory. “I’ll have to read your mind from a clone first, Pein, and I’ll need Yahiko to let me read his mind too, afterwards, just to be safe, but once that’s done I think I probably should be able to let you and him live normal lives.”
Konan bowed her head. “Thank you, both. Very much.”
“Uh, yeah…” Naruto said. “Alright, well, I guess that’s it for now, then. I’ll leave some clones here to read your minds and watch the resurrection and everything, but I think we can get going.”
He looked over at Hinata and Sasuke. “Do you guys have anything else to do, while we’re here?”
Sasuke jabbed his thumb at the walls. “Yeah. Let’s nab some of this black shit.”
“Oh, uh, actually you and I should be able to just… extrude that stuff, now, apparently,” Naruto said. “It’s a rinnegan thing. I’ll show you later.”
“Ah,” Sasuke said. “Alright, let’s go then. Can’t be wasting our time here when all we’ve got left is literally the rest of forever.”
Naruto smiled, following him down the stairs. “Sorry. I guess I’m going to need your help a bit longer than I thought, partner. Yours too, Hinata, if you don’t mind. I’ll need you to help me figure out all this political stuff properly, and it might take a few centuries. I’m going to be pretty busy for a while, actually. The next few hours in particular are going to be a complete blitz.”
“We just fought two of the strongest ninja alive this morning, and then eleven more this afternoon,” Sasuke said. “What else could you possibly need to do tonight?”
“The same thing we’ll be doing every night, Sasuke… Trying to take over the world.”