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This article, Preparatory Path - A Gathering of Shadows, is property of Vague855.

"Knowledge is powerful if you got it, and powerless if you do not acknowledge it."
Keshin Enenra

Act 1: The Agony of Perfection

Rolling waves of dark water crashed against the gray sandy shores of the menacing pool Ikezu overlooked. Fully clothed for once, his billowing dark cloak hung over his shoulders, the edge getting wet every time the murky reservoir tried to extend its reach. He stared out into its depths, peering through the surface and getting a good look at what lied underneath: bodies. Countless, dormant bodies - all nearly identical to himself in every way. All of them, hugging their knees and tucking their heads, bore the same tattoos, eyes, and hair as the cultist. They were no different from himself, and he was not a unique being. A truth hard to swallow, but something he was forced to accept in order to move forwards. Nonetheless, there was one key difference between he and they.

He was free. They were bound to this realm. Ikezu was the only being still alive who could travel to and from the Issuinoyume freely. No one else was capable of entering this world, in essence, he was its king. This was his domain, and no one could never be take it from him. Not the Ōtsutsuki, not Keshin, not even Jashin himself.

But even so, something was nagging him. For the last month, he hadn't been able to escape one thought that occupied his mind. The more he grew, the more he traveled, and the more he saw, Ikezu couldn't help but notice just how big the world really was. How big the universe really was. And now, more than ever, he felt malevolent pulling him out into the stars. Plagued with visions, day and night, from different sources. From Jashin, the Issuinoyume itself, and someone out there in the cosmos. Some force, an entity, was screaming his name. Under normal circumstances, he would have ignored it, as carrying out Jashin's will was his number one priority. But not even Jinpachi himself had heard from his right hand man - Ikezu was beginning to have doubts about Jashin and his identity. Was he really absolute? Was his power really infinite? There was so much out there waiting for him; he now had not only the means, but the power to carry out this interstellar excursion of self-discovery.

"I hear you." He growled, huskiness as scratchy as usual. "But you won't have your way with me."

He took a few steps forwards, starting to sink deeper into the water. Pushing further against the current, it crossed his knees, thighs, and eventually reached his midsection. As the waves continued to billow, they beat against his abs, doing their best to knock him down and send him back to shore. As he reached the deepest part, still only just above his waistline, he thrusted his arm into the water, dragging out one of the thousand versions of himself that resided in the open ocean of this pocket dimension. Holding the limp shell of a man by its throat, he grimaced as he spoke.

"It could have been any of you." He began, looking momentarily at the surrounding waters to see the other Ikezus trapped in stasis. "Any one of you could have wound up like me. It could have been you holding me by the throat right now; you could have had all the power."

From inside his cloak, black thorns began to form and creep out around his arms. Their barbed edges not daring to graze their master, but rather, attached themselves to his victim. Curiously, they did not cut him either, but simply wrapped him up from head to toe in an instant. Ikezu grew angry. Deep down inside, he knew why the thorns wouldn't eviscerate the other one.

Because he was Ikezu too.

"FUCK YOU!" The Egregious screamed, using his free hand to create a sword of whitewashed bone. At this moment, the thorns broke down into a dark inky substance, dropping into the water and dissipating. In a fury, he drove his weapon through the hollow body. Yanking it out, he plunged it into his victim's chest again...and again...and again...and again before tossing him into the water. Leaving him to die where he was conceived.

After a few heavy breaths, he seemed satisfied as he looked at the blood that covered his arms. He couldn't help but "Tch" loudly as the water began to settle from having been so abruptly disturbed. As soon as it relaxed, Ikezu was gone.

"I'll find you. And you'll come to see that I'm no vessel...I'm different."

"I'm a god."

Something foul and wicked descended upon the Jōmae Village in the dead of night, splitting open the stormy sky with their portals.

Humanoids and beasts of ink fell upon the village, silencing the hapless few that saw them with inky claws and fists. The canine drawings sniffed the air and lead the throng, ripping soundlessly through the streets towards the one being who knew of their unwelcomed arrival, sitting on the top of Anbu headquarters: Megumi Ōtsutsuki.

As the first of the illustrations approached the towering building, a wooden spike sailed down and dispersed it with an echoing SHING! The intruders came to a screeching halt and craned their necks up to their assailant.

Megumi flashed a haughty grin. With a roll of thunder, rain poured from the clouds, drenching the ink creatures in a cloudburst. The smallest of them were melted into black puddles of inert ink, while the others scrambled for shelter.

"Aww, what's wrong?" Megumi taunted, floating to ground level. "Don't like a little rain?" She formed another spike then flew down to the intruders, flitting between them and exterminating each with a single blow.

"MEGUMI ŌTSUTSUKI!" roared a scratchy voice from above. Looking up, she saw a number of humanoids riding atop large bats, all made of ink.


Though the rain was taking its toll on them, these ink creations had a great deal more chakra infused within them; the ones she slaughtered were nothing in comparison.

"Really now?" Megumi replied taken aback. It’s been weeks since her… excursion to that other planet. "So I take it you're here to kill me?"


Megumi chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief. She was being arrested by mere pictures. Was the Ōtustuki that sent them busy?

"Yeah, I don't think that's going to happen," she yelled back before reaching into the air, channeling natural energy into the bird. It was inorganic after all. She squeezed her hand into a fist, obliterating it. Ink rained down, painting all it touched with black spots. Other Jōmae-nin had finally flooded the scene, shooing concerned civilians back into their homes.

A feeling of unease washed over Megumi, just as the splatters of ink began to bubble and writhe, reassembling into their original shapes. The puddle underneath her sprouted two thick snakes of ink, rooting her to the spot. "Get inside! Now!" Megumi ordered as struggled to break free.

Those who were too slow were torn asunder by ink canines. The humanoids battered against locked doors, the cries of terrified villagers ringing throughout the Land of Keys. Megumi harshened the rain as she fought against her binds, slowing down the assaults but failing to stop them. Homes were broken into and screams were silenced. The Jōmae-nin fought in vain, and were crushed for their efforts.

"THE MORE YOU SSSTRUGGLE," the ink snakes whispered in her ears, their tongues flicking against them. "THE MORE MORTALSSS DIE. MUSSST THEY SSSUFFER FOR YOUR SSSIN?"

"Alright, alright! I surrender!" Megumi pleaded. She wasn't one to give in so easily - if they ambushed her away from Jōmae, she was sure the outcome would be different. However, under these circumstances she had to make the altruistic choice.

The ink creations ceased their attacks and converged in on Megumi, transforming themselves into a single bat of colossal proportions with her residing in its belly. With a squeak, it took flight and disappeared through a portal, leaving behind a ravaged village stained with blood and ink.

Two days had passed since Ikezu exited the Issuinoyume. Something had drawn him to this other dimension, or perhaps planet entirely; a landscape marred beyond repair. In all directions lied nothing but sand. The hellish heat, burning sun, and scorching dunes under his bare feet made the journey unbearable. He’d been walking for nearly fourth-eight hours. Had it not been for his Yowohinitsuide, he would have surely been exhausted by now. If there was one thing the immortal cultist had trouble dealing with, it was unbearable heat.

Panting heavily, the Akashōkami had long abandoned his cloak. Wearing a thick black garment in the heat was suicide.

As he squinted his eyes, he could see a speck off in the distance. A large estate with an oasis.


Opening a portal, he jumped into it. Escaping the heat for a brief moment as he prepared to drop near the luxurious desert sanctuary.

The bat carved an inter-dimensional path and made its way to a devastated planet, with sand further than the eye could see bar a magnificent estate that stuck out like a sore thumb. Easels littered the lawn and a gorgeous oasis was situated in its center, sustaining imposing trees and well-placed shrubbery.

The inky creature landed on the roof of the mansion and split into a gang of humanoids, Megumi in the center and still held at bay by the snakes.

She activated her Byakugan and took in her surroundings, baffled by the terrain. With senjutsu, she could sense this land was once vibrant and teeming with life. What could have decimated it so utterly?

“WALK CAPTIVE!” demanded the leading drawing and she was shoved towards a set of metal door and down a set of stairs.

The interior was immaculate; masterfully crafted pieces of art decorated the walls, each depicting a different landscape. It was as if you could leap through the paintings and touch the grass. Other than that though, it was sparsely furnished with only a few accent tables bearing a painter’s supplies.

Megumi was marched to an empty, open room and shoved inside.

“MADAM UZUME WILL SEE YOU SOON.” one of the drawings said before slamming the door shut. The ink snakes slithered off and slipped underneath the door.

Now she was thoroughly confused. Did they expect her to wait here? They didn’t even lock it. She reached towards the knob… and left it outstretched, centimeters away from it. For some reason, she couldn’t open the door. It was as if a mysterious force was preventing her from doing so. She attempted to open a portal, but it seemed to be the same case as it was at Hachiman’s estate - only the landlord could open portals anywhere on the property.

“Okay, what about this?” Megumi gathered chakra into her fist, intent on smashing her way out, but it was the same result - she was unable to.

“What the fuck?!”

The Akashōkami’s wormhole would open adjacent to the pool of water. Being just outside the grand residence, he couldn’t help but wonder what kind of abode it was. Who lived here? It couldn’t be anyone short of royalty. From the looks of it, this wasn’t the source of the demonic presence that had been screaming his name, but for now, all thoughts of a looming threat were banished from his mind.

Looking around for a moment, he made sure no one was nearby. If this was a royal estate, where were all the guards? Maybe someone had the same idea he did, and they were preoccupied with another intruder.

If that was the case, he was sure he had time. I’m an instant, he stripped his baggy gray pants and briefs off, naked for all who was present - no one - to see. With a leap, he landed in the water with a loud “SPLASH!” Now energized, he lied down backwards in the water, paddling his way around the little pool as he turned his head to drink the surrounding liquid.

“Found me a camp ground for the night. Fucking bet.” Ikezu said to himself, grinning from ear to ear as the cold water dripped from his lips.

“And I found a little otter, swimming in my spring.” said a velvety voice from behind an easel, brimming with decorum.

Upon hearing the silky smooth voice, Ikezu simply turned his head the other way to face the one who spoke. A woman behind a canvas; she was painting. He didn’t seem to be fazed that she was outside next to him as he bathed in his naked glory. He just glanced over at her for a moment before looking into the sky.

“Can’t see you from behind that thing. Whatcha painting?” He asked nonchalantly before taking in more water and shooting it from his lips.

“Oh, I’m sorry if this is your place. I’m just really hot, and I needed to get a drink. Hope it ain’t a problem.”

”I was painting the scenery. It was going to be my masterwork… until… you… RUINED IT!” she knocked the easel and canvas away in anger, revealing an absolutely stunning woman dressed in a skin tight red dress, her bosom peeking out from the top. She had a slate gray fur mantle draped across her shoulders and wore an ornate black, feathered mask that concealed her right eye. Her fingertips were an assortment of dynamic colors, as if the paint came directly from them. What stood out most was her fair skin, flowing white hair, and unmistakable Byakugan.

She was an Ōtsutsuki.

Her temper tantrum wasn’t even a surprise at this point. Though, it didn’t seem to be entirely irrational. As for the last Ōtsutsuki beauty he’d encountered, she simply wanted to be pissy for the sake of being pissy. Apparently, he’d messed up the image she was trying to capture. As someone who appreciated art to a degree, he quickly gathered himself, stepping out onto the shore of the spring.

“Sorry. I didn’t see you a second ago.” Ikezu said, hoping he could avoid turning their encounter into a scuffle. “I mean no harm, seriously.”

He noted the knocked over canvas, all over the white background was a beautiful desert landscape. It looked as though she’d begun painting the oasis, but stopped upon him landing in the water.

”If it means anything, it’s really impressive.” The Akashōkami said in a consoling tone, trying to comfort her. With a few hop steps across the hot sand, he made his way over to upright her easel and grab her painting. He shook it a bit, carefully trying to avoid causing the paint to drip, in hopes of getting the sand off.

After checking it for grains, he extended it out to her. “Sorry.” The naked man said, smiling at her. “It looks really good. I don’t think you should throw it away yet.”

Ikezu thought if he could befriend her, maybe she could enlighten him on things concerning the dark presence he’d felt. Perhaps she knew what or who it was that called to him.

The Celestial Being ignored his attempt at diffusion but took hold of the offered canvas. With a wave of her hand, she cleared it, creating a blank slate and re-racked it.

“I have ground this planet down to its bones for that one view,” she said. It sounded as if she could cry. A rolled piece of paper lifted up and off her skin, resembling a scroll. “And I’ll never find one as perfect again.” The woman took the scroll in hand and looked Ikezu in the eye.

“You will suffer greatly for your foolishness. I promise.” With that, she opened the scroll which had a blue kanji written in its center. An irresistible force began to pull Ikezu towards, no, into the scroll.

In a panic, Ikezu tried to open a portal in his desperation. It worked for the other Celestial, Megumi, last time… but he wasn’t Megumi.


He disappeared into the scroll, sucked up without a trace.

It had been hours and Megumi was still stuck in the room. No matter what she tried, she just couldn’t get herself out. She had resigned to sit cross-legged in the middle of the room, meditating to sharpen her senjutsu.

At last the door opened and a duo of drawings shuffled in. “MADAM UZUME WILL SEE YOU NOW.” one boomed as they gripped her tightly and hauled her out. Megumi was fully capable of escaping their grasps, but she had already come this far - may as well see who this Uzume was on her terms and pounce then.

She was taken to what seemed to be a study, with scrolls pinned to the walls as well as balled up ones scattered across the floor. A woman in a red dress sat at a desk, scribbling furiously.


“I know you fools, just leave her and go away.” The humanoids complied and bowed before exiting the room.

Uzume sat in silence, still jotting something seemingly important down.

Megumi awkwardly cleared her throat and popped her knuckles, but still Uzume took no notice.

“Well… I’ll just go for it,” she thought as she sprouted and launched a wooden spike at the woman. Without turning her body fully around, the woman somehow wrote a yellow kanji in the air causing the stick to fly back towards Megumi. Despite her surprise, she snatched the sprig out of the air and then dashed forward, set on impaling the woman who sent the living art to her village.

The woman drew another kanji, this time red, forcing Megumi to stop dead in her tracks and drop her weapon.

“Can’t you wait until I’m done?” Uzume asked in an irritated tone. “Inspiration such as this must be transcribed as it strikes.” Uzume continued her work until finally she announced, “It is done.”

From the smattering of papers strewn across the desk, she held aloft a scroll with what appeared to be a naked man on it with a fearful expression. He seemed a bit familiar.

“The imbecile you see here interrupted my work by marring my oasis with his presence. It was going to be my magnum opus,” Uzume shook her head and wiped away a stray tear.

“But that’s a different situation entirely,” She rolled the scroll and held it in her hand. “You’re here, Megumi, for interfering with the planting of a Ten-Tails.” Uzume walked over to where Megumi was frozen, her heels clicking on the wooden floor. She looked Megumi up and down then grasped her face, examining her.

“Such a pretty face. I always found fellow Ōtsutsuki to be both hideous yet alluring in a way, but you my dear, you exhibit such grace. I would like to draw you, but alas, you won’t be here long enough to complete the portrait.”

“What are you talking about?” Megumi inquired through clenched teeth, still unable to move.

“You angered people in high places my dear. So you must be… re-educated as they call it. I just happened to find you first. Come tomorrow they’ll have arrangements made for you.”

“Who is this they?”

Uzume giggled before replying, “Well, technically I’m “they”, a tairō. One of three aides to the Shōgun of this galaxy, who happens to be one of the men you displeased.”

Shōgun? Tairō? Just what has she gotten herself into?

“I know it’s a lot to take in, but worry not, once you’re done with re-education I’m sure you’ll be appointed as a daimyō in no time to replace Hachiman.”

Hachiman, the swordswoman defeated by Keshin Enenra. She had mentioned Megumi would make valuable contributions to the Ōtsutsuki Order, although she probably didn’t expect to be the one being replaced.

“And if I refuse?”

Uzume laughed again, more heartily this time. “There is no refusing I'm afraid, re-education ensures that. You’re quite lucky you’ve been shown such a mercy.” Uzume clapped her hands and the drawings returned to the room.

“Take her back and feed her, I’m sure the poor thing is starving.”

Megumi was lifted up and tossed onto a burly shoulder then walked out of the study.

As the door closed, the tairō unfurled the scroll from earlier and unsealed the man inside, freeing him from his inky prison.

As the parchment prison opened, Ikezu came out with a “Whoosh!” It took a moment before he’d fully transferred from inside the scroll to the physical world, but once he’d been fully materialized, he didn’t move a muscle. The Egregious simply sat in the middle of the floor, legs crossed and arms resting against them. From the looks of it, he appeared to be in a trance.

With nothing better to do from inside the scroll, Ikezu had resorted to trying to feel out that presence. Reaching out with his feelings in all directions, he did his best to relocate the malignant being.

For what felt like hours, nothing was felt. It were as though he’d been extending his vision into a vacuum, and had been uselessly searching for life where there was none. However, just before the scroll was unfurled, he felt it again.


He was brought back by the cold feeling of the floor against his lower half. Opening his eyes from his meditation, he simply gave Uzume a disapproving glance. He’d been awake long enough in the scroll to know what she’d been doing.

The painting on the easel said it all.

”Hmm…” pondered Uzume, her wrath for the man reduced to a slight vexation. “You’re quite handsome, especially with that scowl. How charming!” She placed an easel in front of her and plopped on a canvas. The woman then traced a kanji in the air, causing the lights to dim except for the chandelier above Ikezu.

“Such a scene! Don’t move a muscle, I must paint you!”

Obeying her command, Ikezu just watched the crazed woman go to town on the canvas. From the looks of it, she didn’t need any brushes, she was the brush. But for now, he figured he’d play her game; didn’t have a choice. He had no idea how strong she was, but assuming she could effortlessly seal him into a scroll, getting hostile right off the bat most likely wasn’t the best idea.

So, Ikezu sat, watching Uzume paint. The dimmed lights definitely set the mood, even though she was his captor, it wasn’t beyond him to admit she was quite beautiful.

And her calling him handsome hadn’t went over his head. Finally, an Ōtsutsuki that wasn’t all bad?

Some time passed and Uzume’s piece was complete. She worked quite fast since she was her own paintbrush.

“How lovely!” she chirped as she turned the easel for Ikezu to see. “Your tattoos seem to tell a story. It’s such a interesting depiction on canvas!”

He assumed it was okay for him to move. Nonetheless, it was quite surprising how quickly she had painted the picture. When she turned the easel his way, a smile crept across his face.

She’d captured him perfectly, the lighting represented by masterful strokes of different saturations, his rippling muscles, all of it. Ikezu slowly clapped his hands and smiled.

“It looks perfect. You’re quite the artist. Best I’ve ever seen.”

Upon hearing the word “perfect” Uzume’s mood took a turn for the worse.

“Perfect? No, this isn’t perfect. Nothing I’ve even created has been worthy of such praise.” She narrowed her Byakugan at his own and stood from her stool. “And you took that opportunity from me, a once in a planet’s lifetime event.” Uzume strode to her desk and grasped a different scroll, this one with a device resembling an iron maiden drawn on it.

”Don’t think I’ve forgotten my promise. Your suffering has yet to begin.” She held the scroll aloft and began to unfurl it.

Sighing heavily, he stood up, putting his hands on his hips and squinting at Uzume. “Aw, c’mon, I didn’t mean to.” He groaned, not wanting to be trapped in the woman’s personal pocket dimension again. “It was an accident.”

“Look, how about we try and recreate that scene, eh? You said you messed this place up trying to make a scene for your art, but maybe you went about it all wrong?”

Smiling again, he stretched his arms out. “Real art comes from creation. Why don’t we see what we can do together? It’s only fair since I messed up your scene, right?”

”I’ve waited over a thousand years for this planet’s two suns to cross at just the right spot above my oasis.” she shot back, refusing the naked man’s proposal. “There is no recreating the scene.” Uzume opened the scroll and Ikezu was once again dragged into it, this time trapped in the iron maiden. However, she couldn’t help but consider his opinion on art being born of creation - has she really been going about it all wrong?

Soon after the door closed behind the ink henchmen, Megumi felt the effects of the kanji dissipate - she could move again. However, she opted to feign ignorance and return to the room. She’d strike when one of them came back with food.

At last the door was thrown open and a single drawing stood outside the door, a rolling cart with a tray of assorted fruits, cheeses, and bread.

Megumi promptly stabbed the ink man with a wooden spike, which sprouted into a number of branches, destroying him. It was a gamble, but fortunately it worked out in her favor.

Swiping a few snacks from the tray, Megumi snuck about the manor, retracing the steps of her captors and searching for anything that resembling the marking on the wall at Hachiman’s estate.

“EAT, VESSEL OF FUTSUNUSHIKI,” bellowed a servant, its voice bouncing around the middle level hall. “YOU MUST REMAIN HEALTHY AND STRONG.”

Megumi crept up behind it and peeked into the room it stood before. In the corner sat a pink-haired man with greenish-white skin dressed in a haori and baggy white pants. His arms were crossed and his eyes were tightly closed.


Megumi zoomed in on the prisoner with her Byakugan and spotted the tell-tale black Kāma embedded in the center of his chest.

”Holy shit.” What was the vessel of an entirely different Ōtsutsuki doing here? At any rate, it couldn’t be good. She disposed of the ink guard.

”Hey… man…, you can come out now.” she said, dropping her camouflage.

The man’s eyes peeled open, revealing a striking pair of blue sclera and yellow irides, a kanji etched in both of them. He looked at Megumi and his eyes widened in panic. His Kāma activated, spreading across his body with a violet glimmer.

“Wait! I’m not going to hurt you!” Megumi said, raising her hands.

He stood and rolled his neck, his breathing growing heavy. An intense bloodlust rolled off him in waves.


He dashed out of the room and tackled Megumi, lugging her down the hall then ramming her against a wall. It broke beneath the force of the impact and left them soaring through the air before landing in the hot sands.

Megumi was the first on her feet, but her attacker was just as swift. He launched a flurry of punches cloaked in a blue aura, forcing her to be take the defensive.

“Will you just,” she said in between blocks and dodges as the man wasn’t terribly strong nor fast. “Listen to me?” Megumi caught his fists, momentarily halting his assault. “I’m not your enemy, they are!” She nodded her head in the direction of a company of ink subordinates making their way to the brawling two.

The vessel bared his teeth and twisted out of her grapple. A violet aura seeped from his being before exploding into a fierce pillar of color. With her Byakugan, Megumi could see he had opened up six of the Eight Gates. It had been some time since she last encountered a user of the Eight Gates.

In a blur, he streaked towards the oncoming enemies and laid waste to the forces before they even knew what happened.

He then circled back to Megumi, greeting her face with a fist followed by a brutal kick to the gut, pushing her back.

“That hurt a bit y’know,” Megumi whined, caressing her jaw. “Can’t we talk about this? I really don’t want to hurt you.”

“No! Die!” The vessel drew back his fist and with a grunt, punched forward, shooting a thick column of pressurized air at her.

Megumi sidestepped it with an exasperated sigh. As he prepared to fire another with frenzied grin, she decided she would get nowhere with him and, much to his surprise, appeared in front of him. She coated her palm with a wispy, blue chakra and landed an open strike in the center of his abdomen, the shockwave of chakra forcibly closing the designated gate and surrounding tenketsu.

The man staggered back in pain, knees wobbly. He then fell face first onto the sand.

“I didn’t want to do that, but you didn’t leave me much of a choice.” scolded Megumi as she squat down to pick him up.

He reached up with a trembling arm, his Kāma glowing ominously. The vessel chuckled, in a voice unlike his own, as a rift tore open between them, swallowing them whole and into oblivion.

“Holy fuck…”

This definitely wasn’t the same dimension the last scroll had transported him to. This time, Ikezu found himself trapped within some sort of incarceration device - an iron maiden to be exact. Were it not for his Shikotsumyaku, he would have been skewered.

With spikes all around him, he used four bone spurs, two from his feet and two from his back - to rest his body just above the spikes. He simply chilled, hanging above the sharp points by a hair. If he breathes too hard though, they’d pierce through his skin.

Death wasn’t an option, he was immortal. But unnecessary pain was to be avoided.

“I swear to god when she lets me out for another painting…” Ikezu whispered, grimacing as he stared at the blades barely missing his skin. “I’m gonna fuck her up.”

Now, all he could do was wait.

In the meantime, Uzume attempted some damage control, having lost both Megumi and the vessel of Futsunushiki.

“How could you fools let them escape?!” Uzume barked at her illustrations as she floated above the sands, her ire making them cower in fear. “Nearly a hundred of you, and no one could capture at least them?” Uzume landed and snapped her fingers, converting each of her living drawings into a pile of ink. She paced back and forth, massaging her temples to ease her blooming headache. It doesn’t bode well for a tairō to fail not one, but two tasks. There was no telling what atrocity she’d face as punishment.

She ceased her pacing and withdrew the scroll the man was trapped inside. If she was going to be taken from her art, she was going to paint her magnum opus before it’d happen.

Uzume unraveled the scroll, releasing the man from the confines of the iron maiden.

Ikezu seized the woman by the throat and slammed her into the ground, pushing her down and restraining her as he manifested claws made of bone from his free hand’s fingertips. The obviously pissed cultist had blood dripping from his cheek - his only wound from being trapped in her device.

“The fuck is your problem?!” He yelled, squatting over her as he brandished his claws. “I could have lost my junk in there, you crazy fuck. I offer to help you with your painting and THIS is what you do?”

He’d completely snapped. What the hell was this woman’s issue? She seemed so nice at first, then slightly pissy, and now she was just being a sadist. In all of his days, he had never met someone as strange, peculiar, and utterly hopeless as the female before him.

And if she kept it up, he was going to kill her.

Uzume’s body collapsed into a pile of paperorigami cranes, the sudden lack of weight underneath him causing Ikezu to fall into the sand. The cranes flew a few feet away from him and congregated, reshaping themselves into the Celestial Being.

“I’m glad you’re alive,” she said, dusting herself off. “We’ve got some painting to do.” Uzume snapped her fingers and a pair of oversized ink bat came flapping from the gaping hole in her mansion with a bundle in their paws. One of creatures carried an easel and canvas while the other hovered beside Ikezu and presented something to him. It was a roll of clothes.

As soon as she’d dissipated into the paper birds, Ikezu spun around in preparation to run her through with his hand. But there she was, easel, canvas, and ready to paint.

Taking the clothes, he quickly garnished himself in the elaborate robe before rolling his eyes and hanging his head back. “And now we’re back to this. How many more times do you plan to put me in your little pocket realm?”

Uzume took flight in no specific direction, the pack-mule bat trailing close behind with her supplies. The bat beside Ikezu offered its paw for him to hold.

“Goddammit…” He mumbled, grabbing hold of the bat and preparing for flight. Ikezu was beginning to question if cooperating with this woman was worth the trouble. He’d probably be much better off going off on his own while she was gone.

And for the umpteenth time since he’d met Megumi, he was dangling in the air, not even fazed by the wind beating against his face.

”I’ve always despised the Ōtsutsuki Will,” Uzume started, slowing down so Ikezu’s bat could catch up. “To rob such beautiful planets and beings of what makes them so. It’s despicable.” She laughed ruefully. “But who am I to judge? I razed this planet in the pursuit of my magnum opus, to craft a work so he could finally be proud of me and still… I missed the scene.”

Now she was trying to converse with him. Great. At this point, he was literally just waiting to be sucked up into a piece of paper. Ikezu wondered what would happen if she decided to not take him out and put him in a paper shredder.

He gulped and decided not to think about that.

“Sounds a bit counterproductive, eh?” The cultist asked, a subtle dash of irritation in his tone. “If it’s the suns you wanted to paint, why didn’t you just fly up higher? Or capture the scenery too. Doesn’t that just make a prettier picture?”

”Its all about perspective my dear otter. Who could truly appreciate an aerial depiction of the crossing of two suns? The reflection of their light on the water, the ripples on its surface - it is those small, evanescent details captured as they occur that bring life to the canvas.”

As Uzume flew she scanned the sand dunes for anything that stood out from the sienna landscape.

“I’m only half Celestial Being,” she continued, sorrow coating her words. “My mother was an extraterrestrial, from a faraway planet my father encountered on his travels. Two ended up together and I was born.” She wiped her eye as a tear stung it’s way to the surface. “She died, giving birth to me. It made my father a bitter man, who resented my very existence, while he adored my elder half-brother simply because he was full-blooded.”

Ikezu remained silent as he listened to her story. He wasn’t exactly sure where this was coming from, or why she brought it up. Nonetheless, it did kind of ache his heart to hear about it. It wasn’t like he could relate to the death of a mother - he had no parents. Seeing her get so emotional made him feel sorry for her.

The Egregious didn’t know if it was pity or compassion. Either way, he opted to remain quiet, ignoring the fact she had just called him an otter.

“I’m not an otter. I have a name.” He retorted.

Change of plans. He had to make sure she didn’t actually think he was an otter. As eccentric as she was, he couldn’t tell if she really thought he was an animal or not.

“As do I. I am Uzume and you are Ikezu.”

”How the fuck do you know that?”

”I know the names of all who have experienced my paper prison,” She said with a nonchalant shrug, as if it was common knowledge. “All works of art must have a title.”

Ikezu couldn’t help but smirk at the comment. “You calling me a piece of work?” He laughed, wiggling a bit from underneath the artificial bat. “Not gonna lie, you’re pretty weird. One second you’re pretty cool, the next you’re the most emotionally unstable person I’ve ever seen. You do realize you just made an attempt on my life in that scroll, right? Or did you forget what was in there?”

“I knew. I promised you’d suffer and it seems the scroll did just that with how you came barreling out of it.” Not leaving him time to respond to her blatant honesty, she carried on with her story.

“My art was the only thing my father liked about me. So I made it my mission to create a masterwork, a magnum opus, a perfect piece that he would finally express some pride in me for.” Uzume spotted the tiniest fleck of green imaginable in the sands. Intrigued she floated down towards the solitary blemish amongst the uniform land.

Her father? So, being a scholar and all, Ikezu assumed it was safe to diagnose her with severe daddy issues. Her desperation to create this “magnum opus” was proof of it.

It made sense, must be where her emotional outbreaks came from. Before he could say anything, she had descended down to the dunes below and sure enough, his bat followed.

"A sprout?" Uzume mused, unsure how it even managed to grow. Not like it mattered - it had already begun wilting, overcome by the harshness of its environment.

“Damn, you really screwed this place up, huh?” He said matter-of-factly. “Feel bad for this little guy.”

Opening one of his hands, he created a small pot forged in bone. The pure white ceramic rested in the center of his palm as he scooped the little plant from the dry ground. Making sure to carry the roots with it, he dropped it into the pot with a bit of dirt, then opened a portal to the Issuinoyume with the newly free hand.

Reaching through, he placed the plant at some other location, saving it for later. After he closed the tiny portal, he dusted his hands off and looked her way.

“I’m taking the liberty of keeping that, if you don’t mind.”

"Hmm... so you can travel dimensions." Uzume noted, disregarding his comment. "Why are you still here?"

A great question. Ikezu was almost excited to answer this one. “Because I’m not gonna let one emotionally unstable artist get in between me and what I came here for originally.”

He sighed, wiping his brow which was beginning to become moist with sweat. “Now where are we making this painting. I wanna go swimming when we’re done.”

Uzume shed a sheet of paper and using her index finger, drew a simple circle. The shape lifted off the page, taking physical form, and expanded, becoming dozens of times larger than what was drawn. It rose into the sky and blocked out the rays of the suns, casting a cool, shaded area on them.

“What did you originally come here for?” she asked. “And where did you send the plant?”

She was getting way too comfortable asking questions, especially since she hadn’t made it clear if she was an enemy or not. In the back of Ikezu’s mind, he knew giving into her inquisitiveness might result in his downfall.

Then again, bringing her into the Issuinoyume might not be such a bad idea. Within that realm, his power was magnified ten-fold. If she decided to get out of hand, he would be able to deal with her swiftly. After all, it was the source of his Yowohinitsuide.

“I come from a realm that’s outside the reach of time.” He said, deciding not to uncover most of its secrets too soon. “That’s where I put your plant.”

Uzume tilted her head ever so slightly, her eye shining with interest. “A realm outside the reach of time, that’s quite similar to the dimensions within my scrolls.” Uzume smiled, a genuine grin that eased the seriousness of her interrogation. “It seems there’s more to you than I thought my dear. Would you mind taking me?”

“I would, to be honest.” The Egregious retorted. “But I’ll do it anyway.”

Opening a portal in front of him, he gingerly took the woman’s hand and walked her through a black wormhole. What they saw on the other side was nothing short of incredible.

They emerged along the edge of a sprawling gray jungle. Beyond the massive valley before them was a glorious mountain range that spread out as far as one could see, as if it served as a barrier to a great unknown. It was a picturesque world, drained of all color.

That is, until one observed the sky. Ikezu pointed upwards to direct Uzume’s sight.

There laid a sun and the two moons, frozen in place nearly perpendicular to each other, dominating the wide open plane that was their horizon. The sun had just ascended above the mountaintops, casting its orange light upon the blank world below. The moons reflected the orange and converted it to a cool, calming blue. These satellites and everything else for that matter was in a state of suspension, held in place by the grip of time. The cultist smiled faintly as he looked back at his passenger.

“This is my home. You’re the first person to ever step foot here aside from me.” Ikezu took a few steps out into the grass, looking around a bit before turning to face her.

“You can paint all this if you want. I think my sky is much prettier than yours. But don’t wander off too far.”

”My, my, my,” Uzume breathed as she wandered about, taking in the greyscale dimension. “If you had shown me this before, I would have excused your wrongdoing.”

Ikezu scowled at her comment. “Just hurry up and get to it. We aren’t staying here long.”

”What’s the rush in a realm devoid of time?” she quipped, walking to the outer border of the cliff and taking a seat. “I couldn’t help but notice you never told me what you were searching for on my planet.”

He rolled his eyes. Inquisitive as ever. “It’s a long story. Maybe I’ll tell you once we get back.” Ikezu stared off into the distance, as if he were watching for something particular.

“I just want to go back as soon as possible.” A hint of unease in his voice could be heard, and a slight look of worry blemished his scowl. “So if you don’t mind, do your painting. Shit, I’ll even pose for you if you want me in it, let’s just head back in a bit.”

Uzume laid back onto the ground and sighed contentedly. “You’re quite cute when you’re lying, or rather, withholding the whole truth.” She then floated up perpendicular to Ikezu, her hand outstretched. “I’m finished.”

Confusion draped his expression at both the “cute” remark, and the fact that she didn’t decide to paint the landscape. He just looked at the reclining Celestial, raising an eyebrow.

“You’re not gonna paint?” The man asked, reaching out with his arm and opening another portal. “Why?”

”Because,” she said, spinning midair to face him properly. “This world is exclusively yours and as you said, I’m the only other being who’s ever set foot here. To paint this dimension and present it as a work of my own doing, would not only be a deception the viewer, but to myself.” Uzume uprighted herself and landed lightly on her feet. She took his hand, ready to depart, but gazed into his eyes, her Byakugan a tad softer than before. “Thank you, Ikezu, for listening and showing me your home. It’s reminded me that all things have their unique beauty, even if it’s all grey. Destroying them in pursuit of something greater, in the end, has left me with nothing.”

“Uh…sure.” The cultist said, avoiding eye contact with Uzume. Simply staring into the portal, he was still confused as to why she didn’t want to paint the land. It would have been a pretty picture. In all honesty, he was kind of excited to see how it would have turned out; was a shame.

“Let’s just go back.” He mumbled, pulling his hand away from hers. “I wanna go swim.”

The second they stepped back onto the sands of the ruined planet, Ikezu took off towards the oasis and dove in, much to Uzume’s amusement. While he happily swam, she returned to her manor to prepare for whatever tomorrow may bring.

Deep within the Land of Frost atop its highest peak, it snowed lightly, crowning the white mountaintops with a light halo of sheer cold. A lonely cabin blew smoke from its chimney, signaling a single sign of life in the otherwise damn-near uninhabitable territory.

The big wooden door to the humble abode creaked open, and out ran a massive wolf pup. Tongue lolling out, it playfully barked and ran out onto the porch before leaping into the snow. As soon as it’s paws hit the ground, it spun around, dropping its front end and wagging its tail at the man in the doorway, beckoning him to come play.

“I’m coming, asshole.” a smooth voice said with a chuckle. “You’re too eager, I wish I had fur like you.”

Keshin walked out onto to the deck in front, quickly descending down the steps and making his way to the massive puppy. A big hand landed atop its head, ruffling its fur and scrunching its ears together before letting them flop back into place. The Sixth God grinned at his four-legged friend, who was wagging his tail furiously.

“What, motherfucker?”

Eyes shining bright, the tall man crouched down, coddling the puppy as he kissed it on the head.

“I wuv you.” He growled into his ear before nibbling on the little triangle. “Such a good doggo.”

The puppy panted contentedly, scratching at his side while Keshin rubbed his head. They were the best of friends - the only remnant of the Sixth God’s past life.

”Must you always coddle him?”

Keshin paused his petting and glanced up, raising an eyebrow.

Before him stood Hachiman Ōtsutsuki, gazing down at him in distaste.

The Sixth stared at the woman and cocked his head to the side. Only for a moment before going back to cuddling his dog, who seemed to be ignoring her presence.

“Can I help you?” He asked, as if he didn’t already know who she was and why she was there. “As you can see, I’m a bit preoccupied.”

”Do you really intend on putting off training again?” She scoffed, hands on her hips. “We’ve no hope of prevailing over Omoikane with such indolence.”

Hachiman’s personality never ceased to disgust him. “This training isn’t for me.” He retaliated, standing up before patting the dog one more time. When he got off the ground, the puppy whined before turning to Hachiman, sitting at her feet while his master walked off in the other direction.

“I don’t want to train you today.” The Sixth stated. His tone suddenly shifted, sounding littered with some sort of personal emotional weight. “Find something to do.”

”Unbelievable,” said Hachiman, tossing her hands into air. “You think you can overturn the status quo on a whim single-handedly? That your power alone is sufficient?” Hachiman shook her head. “With that attitude, you’re destined to fail.”

He continued walking into the house, ignoring what she had to say. The puppy at Hachiman’s feet began to whimper disapprovingly before snapping at the air, looking up at her.

”He’s a real knucklehead, isn’t he?” she said to the pup as she kneeled down to pet it. “No matter, he’ll learn soon enough.”

The puppy closed his eyes and pushed his face into Hachiman’s leg, wagging his tail as she rubbed his face. When the door closed behind the Sixth, the dog would spin around and whine; irritated by Keshin’s antics.

But would run off in a fit of excitement once his master emerged from the cabin once more, swords now girded onto his waist with his usual kimono and cloak combo.

“I’m going on a trip.” He said, walking past the pup, who simply stared in disbelief at his owner’s sudden mood swing. “Stay here. Watch Suigyoku. He scratches the door when he needs to piss or shit, so if I come home and there’s a turd in the living room, I’m killing you a second time.”

“And don’t fill my dog’s head with your ridiculous ideas while I’m gone.” He added in passing, patting the dog’s head once before leaving them both behind. “Small fry like you don’t have relevant opinions anyways.”

As the Sixth journeyed down his mountain, the wind and snow picked up, whipping white sheets of cold all over the place. It didn’t faze him; he was used to the extreme temperatures and weather that always struck the Land of Frost during these dreary winter months.

It was nostalgic really. He remembered walking the exact same path nearly every day, for twenty years straight; all nearly a century ago. He could almost see it. His younger self, swords still on his waist, hair flowing freely, same cloak but different kimono…

And she was with him. Those were times long gone. When the light in Keshin’s life still burned bright.

It really had been eons since then, but it felt as though it were yesterday. In all his life, he knew that he had never felt so complete, and would never feel that way again. Love, romance, and emotional attachment as a whole; it was all something the swordsman felt he would never have the luxury to indulge in again. Save Suigyoku, he didn’t have any genuine feelings for…well…anyone.

Keshin shielded his eyes against the strengthening snow maelstrom, raising an arm to serve as a barrier between his dōjutsu and the ice. One eye blazed like the morning sky, pink dancing across its surface. The other emanated a green hue, it’s iris mirroring that of the twilight.

He wondered if he had possession of his dojutsu back then, would it had made a difference? If he had embraced the path he now walked on earlier, then maybe she would still be here. It was no use, Keshin shook his head in the blizzard, inwardly ridiculing himself for having such pathetic thoughts and reminiscence. Whether he liked it or not, her death was the very reason he was the harbinger of judgement he was today. In a way, she created him.

She’d given him purpose in life, and even in death, his lover left something behind for him to forge into a creed.

Aside from Suigyoku. That damned pup.

The giant continued to trek through the icy land, pulling his scarf to shield the lower half of his face, lest he get frost bitten. Knowing Hachiman, she’d mock him when he got back if he showed any sign of weakness. A rash from the cold would be nothing more than ammunition for her critical ass to fire shots - more than she already did.

Even so, the thought of the Celestial mustered something in him akin to tolerance. She was haughty though he brought her down in minutes. She was spunky though she was of nobility. And of course, she was condescending when she had no room to talk. Everything about her was repulsive, and Keshin himself questioned why he even spared her.

He grinned against the freezing onslaught as an image of the woman formed in his mind’s eye. The Sixth knew exactly why he let her live.

It was her poor swordsmanship. Truthfully, it was excellent swordsmanship, but she was trapped in the shadow of his own. But even more than that, he had a more intimate, sensitive motive.

Although he never showed her any sort of positive attention, inwardly, he was proud of her. Hachiman had the will to stand against the Ōtsutsuki. Not bending to everything she was led to believe took a tremendous amount of strength. Furthermore, even existing in his presence day to day, knowing that she shared a home with the man who literally killed her - and being trained by him, an additional slap to the face. She had come to acknowledge her own inferiority. That was the first step in her growth.

And aside from all her rude comments, she was handling it all quite well.

“I’m glad I saved you.” Keshin mumbled to the wind, his voice drowned out by the howling blast of snow. Kusari was the one who gave him purpose, yes, but Hachiman’s existence only validated it once again. It was for the world that he fought, but people like her needed him even more desperately. To abolish the hellish system that oppressed free minds such as her own, and instigate an age where human, extraterrestrial, and even Celestials could bond.

If that failed, then no other solution existed. They would all be purged. Every single one. Keshin would hunt each down to be sure of it. They were so close to crossing the line. His mercy was running out.

Time, was running out.

Act 2: Where Secrets Lie

With an ear-piercing BOOM!, Megumi and Futsunushiki’s vessel were tossed onto a bustling street, startling its passerby. Megumi was the first to act, quickly climbing to her feet and helping up her listless companion.

“Sorry, sorry,” she laughed, playing off the fact they were spat out by a portal. “We had a bit much to drink.” Megumi hobbled into a secluded alleyway, away from the judging eyes of this world’s populace. Who could blame them, the two stuck out like a sore thumb in comparison to the myriad of viridescent skin tones that seemed to be commonplace in this village of concrete and asphalt.

The vessel groaned and slid onto the pavement, dragging his feet.

“Stand up,” she commanded. “You can’t be in that much pain.”

“You hit… me…” he said with a groggy grimace, clenching his teeth, “Very… hard.”

“Remember how you refused to talk it out?” Megumi replied mockingly, belittling his earnest complaint. “You deserved it.”

“What’s… you’re name?”

“Megumi. And yours?”

“Megumi… you’re an… asshole.”

Before she could riposte his unexpected comment, Megumi sensed a quartet of beings from the rooftops turn their attention to them and, without hesitation, leap down into the backstreet.

“What do we have here?” said the biggest of the group, a single sharp tusk jutting from his lower jaw.

“What business does a Celestial Being have outside the citadel?”

“There’s other Ōtsutsuki here?” Megumi chose her words carefully. “What do you mean? Are we not allowed to explore as we please?”

“What’s there to see down in this shithole? I’ll answer that for ya, nothing.” The leading creature moved in closer, his posse right behind. “I suggest you get to flying back there before something bad happens.”

Megumi happily acquiesced and began to lift the vessel onto her shoulder.

“Nah, you’re leaving that one here,” the boss said, inching even closer. “Eyes pretty as those’ll go for hundreds a pop.”

“What?!” She blurted out. Even the vessel was suddenly more alert.

“Hey don’t get like that sweetheart! Consider it an even trade; you get back to the citadel in one piece, he just, uhh, doesn’t.”

“Like hell I will!” Megumi snarled, standing in front of the gang’s target.

“Well boys, we gave her a chance,” the green degenerate motioned to his pack and together they stalked towards the duo, crowding them.

Megumi channeled natural energy through her feet, taking control of the constitution of the pavement they stood upon. Before the bastards could realize what was happening, spikes erupted from beneath them, skewering them like pigs and lining the alley with their blood.

Without a word from either of them, she perched the vessel onto her shoulder and floated up into the sky, searching for the citadel - which wasn’t too difficult to find. It was a grand metropolis with towers that reached for the heavens, the tallest being the most regal of them all. It was plated in gold and had a bear’s head on its peak, sculpted mid-roar. With her destination in sight, she took off with the vessel in tow.

“The name’s Yūshin,” the dangling man said. “I’m ready to talk now.”

Uzume took residence in her study and didn’t sleep a wink, awaiting the judgement of her peer. Some would have fled, others fight. She knew better. Opposing the Ōtsutsuki Will was futile; one could only embrace it or suffer the consequences.


The suns rose on an empty horizon. Ikezu was sitting on the rails of one of Uzume’s balconies; he had spent all night chatting the stars. While he wasn’t exactly sure where this planet was in relation to his own, he assumed he could get a decent idea of where exactly he was in the galaxy through his view of the sky. The only issues was, none of the constellations, planets, or noteworthy stars he could see at night were anything he remembered from his home world.

Not that it mattered, he was enjoying these grapes.

Hopping from his perch, he began to gather his things. Several sketchbooks, scrolls, a few loose scraps of paper he’d turned into sky maps of sorts, and a compass. He dropped them all into a portal, sliding them together on the ground with his foot and opening the hole underneath them.  

He wondered how long it would be before Uzume got up. From the looks of it, he could trust her for now. Though, he was getting a little antsy just hanging out at her place. It was nice, but he did have an objective he needed to get taken care of.

The Akashōkami decided he’d ask her about what he’d been experiencing when she came out her study. With that in mind, he sat back down on the rails, feet dangling over the desert below as he gazed skywards.

While Ikezu lounged about, a rift in space tore open inside Uzume’s study. From it emerged a lone Celestial Being, Fudō-Myōō. He was dressed in black and grey Ōtsutsuki nobility attire and had a pair of long, curved black horns. He had a messy mop of white hair and a Byakugan along with a red, Rinnegan.

“Uzume,” he acknowledged with a nod. “It’s been a while.”

“Yes, it has.” She met his eye and without faltering said, “Shame it couldn’t be under better circumstances.”

Fudō titled his head quizzically. “I’ve arrived to take custody of Sutoku’s cur, I find that a good circumstance.”

Uzume straightened her back and crossed her legs, taking a rather distinguished approach. “I’m afraid she’s escaped… along with the vessel of Futsunushiki.”

The visiting Celestial was nonreactive, almost as if he already knew. He began to pace the room, examining Uzume’s art supplies and pieces.

“Sutoku was the Prince of the Royal Family; we should expect nothing less of his incarnate.” Fudō stopped at one Uzume’s earliest paintings, a depiction of the planet’s once expansive forest with beasts milling around, grazing and hunting. “However, I am disappointed. You are a tairō, Uzume. Failures such as this should not have happened, your powers assure that.” He placed a finger on the painting. “I believe you are too preoccupied with your art and losing sight of what is truly important.” A pale glow emanated from his fingertip and the painting was gone, reduced to atoms.

Uzume remained seated as Fudō disintegrated every painting in the room, a tear slipping down her cheek. She may not have believed her art was perfect, but it was her art. They meant the universe to her.

Fudō reached the latest of her creations, the nude portrait of Ikezu.

“Oh?” he mulled, taking the painting in hand. “Or is it your plaything that is distracting you?”

“I’m not a plaything.” snapped the cultist from the doorway. He was leaning against the side of the frame, cloak on for the first time since he’d arrived on the planet. “Quite frankly, she’s been nothing but a pain.”

He took a quick gander around the room, all the paintings were gone. Uzume looked like she was going to burst into tears any minute, though she was suppressing it quite well. Ikezu assumed the other Celestial was the one at fault, perhaps a superior?

Well, if he was keeping her in check, he just got to talk shit with no repercussions.

“You should destroy that one too.” He said, grinning handsomely. “I’d appreciate that.”

The Celestial didn’t share his humor.

“A talkative one at that, I see why you were neglecting your duties.” Fudō remarked, turning his attention to Ikezu. He aimed his finger at the cultist, a three-dimensional cone appearing at its tip. “I shall dispose of it.”

Dust Release. He knew all about that one, could thank a certain Jashin hater for that. But nonetheless, the little projectile disappeared, nothing noticeable changing around Ikezu as it did. He just winked at the man across from him.

“Nah, we barely talk.” He made eye contact with Uzume, the look on her face hurt his heart.

The Akashōkami made his way over across the room, stopping just behind the horned visitor. His back faced the Celestials as he turned his head to face him once more.

“I’m kinda here on my own business. Got no interest in y’all’s beef.” He started, his tone sounding more complacent than usual. “But I’m not a ‘distraction’, wouldn’t say the same for the paintings though. Go nuts, king.”

Fudō narrowed his eyes at the flippant human. “Did you think I couldn’t decipher the nature of your little trick?” In one swift movement, he grabbed the cultist by the throat and slammed him into the wall, Rinnegan glimmering menacingly. Fudō placed his other hand onto Ikezu’s forehead and shifted around his memories, using the choking man’s soul as a medium.

The cultist just grinned maniacally as his aggressor picked him up. Wincing a bit from the pressure being applied to his neck, but seemingly unfazed by the prying into his mind.

“You ain’t gonna find much in there.” He said, still beaming. “My thoughts have been pretty simple lately. So don’t even bother.”

“And I’m not the human you should be worried about anyways. I won’t bite unless you make me.” Ikezu snapped his jaw in emphasis.

Uzume watched the entire ordeal closely, her body tightly wound up to spring into action if needed.

“As I thought,” mumbled Fudō. “You’re the human that interrupted the planting.” Both of his hands began to glow, just as his finger did to crumble the paintings. “Be glad your death will be painless.”

At once the light in his hands faded and his hold on Ikezu, slackened, allowing the man to fall gracelessly onto the floor. Uzume was standing now, having just drawn a red kanji in the air.

“That’s enough Fudō! You’ve made your point, now leave my estate,” She was every bit of able to fend off the Dust Release user, but she treaded on thin ice. He was the right hand of the Shōgun - if any actual harm were to befall him, she may as well dig her own grave.

He knew she’d pull through. Ikezu himself didn’t want to have any involvement in this feud, which was why he’d opted to simply put his life in Uzume’s hands. This was a defensive battle. And sure enough, it seemed like that was the right decision.

At the moment, a war with the Ōtsutsuki Clan was the last thing he needed. They were already aware of who he was, meaning that they had eyes and ears everywhere.

Must have been that damn Hiruko.

He’d find her and kill her when he got the chance. For now, he’d just sit and watch this unfold, still smirking as he stood in front of Fudō.

”You dare obstruct the justice of the Shōgun?” The immobilized Celestial warned. “You’ve let this piteous creature soften you, Uzume.”

A rift cracked open behind Fudō and began to envelop him in its swirling darkness. “You’ll come to regret your actions. The Shōgun’s mercy… is in short supply these days.” Then he was gone, consumed by the fleeting portal.

After the man disappeared, Ikezu turned to face Uzume. The room was uncomfortably empty now that her art had been done away with. He frowned. “Who the hell was that?” He asked, irritation littering his voice. “And why the fuck did he walk in here making demands and shit?”

Uzume fell to her knees and sobbed, a wretched, heartbreaking sound that filled the room with despair.

“Hey…uh…don’t cry…”

This was beyond anything he knew how to deal with. Ikezu wasn’t a therapist; what was he supposed to do? In his opinion, it seemed like she brought the situation upon herself anyways, judging from what the Ōtsutsuki earlier had said. Was she not allowed to paint because it was a distraction? A distraction from what?

With a sigh, he walked over to where she was kneeling, standing behind her trembling figure and looking down as she cried. Raising a hand, he brought it down on her shoulder awkwardly, trying to comfort the woman.

“There, there.” The cultist croaked, wincing as their skin made contact. “It’ll be ok. I’m here…for you…”

It was moments like these that made the Akashōkami wish he wasn’t immortal. He’d kill himself as soon as he got the chance.

"I was a vessel too y'know," Megumi said, soaring towards the citadel. Yūshin had clued her in on his life, which really began the day he was sold as a slave to Futsunushiki Ōtsutsuki in his childhood, a dead daimyō of a far-away sector of the galaxy, having been killed by Yūshin himself. He was branded as his vessel in hopes of being reborn with the thrall's immense regenerative power to use the Eight Gates technique to its full potential.

"Was?" the man asked.

"The Celestial who branded me, Sutoku… their clan had turned their back on him, for trying to change the status quo."

"So what? He just didn't resurrect?"

"It's a long story, but during a fight with another Ōtsutsuki called the Shinigami, I died. Sutoku used the Kāma to resurrect me somehow, preventing himself from reincarnating,” Megumi wrinkled her nose as she recalled her perilous battle against the death god. "After that, Sutoku used what was left of his spirit to start my transformation and thus overwhelm the Shinigami. Now here I am, an Ōtsutsuki."

"But you don't go around destroying planets?"

"Nope, if anything I do the opposite. I even stopped a Celestial from destroying one." As the citadel came into view, Megumi could sense a menacing presence at the top of a most stately palace.

"So why'd you save me?" Yūshin craned his neck up to look at her. "Why do you even care?"

"Like I said, I was a vessel too at one time, so I know how you feel. As for those guys," she frowned in distaste. "What kind of person would I be to let them have their way?"

Megumi landed at the entrance to the palace and walked inside, exuding an air of confidence, Yūshin close behind. The interior resembled that of a lobby, a check-in desk situated near a set of elevators.

"Welcome to the heart of Kumalaphe, the palace of soon-to-be Queen Imōkuma. How may I be of assistance Celestial?" chirped the much-to-bubbly clerk.

Megumi cleared her throat. "I was summoned by my superiors in a hurry." she lied. "Can you fill me in on what's happening today?"

"Absolutely! Today is Princess Imōkuma's coronation and a signing of a treaty with Ōtsutsuki daimyō, Lord Mikaboshi. It's a most glorious day that will ensure Kumalaphe's future!" The clerk stood and herded Megumi to the elevators. "The ceremony is slated to begin soon, just take the elevator to the 30th floor!"

"He's with me," Megumi interjected, pointing at Yūshin.

"I'm sorry my Lady, but non-Kumalapheans and Celestial Beings were barred from attending. He is welcome to wait here."

Megumi looked into the clerk's eyes scathingly. She channeled chakra into her kotodama and suggested, "You should let him attend."

"My apologies! You are welcome to attend as well my Lord!"

Yūshin joined Megumi in the elevator and together they ascended to the 30th floor, unsure of what awaited them, but Megumi was certain of one thing; with each Ōtsutsuki she met, the closer she got to ones in power. What happened to Jōmae will never happen again, to any village, nation, or planet for that matter, she'd make sure of it, even if meant going to the ends of the universe.

“Can you stop crying already..?”

Ikezu was beyond confused. The “There, there” trick didn’t work. What the hell? He was pretty sure that was like the holy grail of comforting tactics, and it failed. Some secret weapon that was.

“You gotta stop. You’re a grown-ass woman, and you made that guy run away scared. You should be proud, not bawling your eyes out.”

It was true. Whatever she had done, it obviously made that Ōtsutsuki asshole run away. She was scary indeed, even capable of incapacitating someone of his caliber. Uzume was even more impressive than he’d thought. But here she was, crying over some pictures.

He felt like for someone as strong as her, it was a pathetic thing to sob over.

“Get up.” The cultist commanded, a tone of authority booming in his voice. “I’m done watching you cry. Get the fuck up.” As he rolled his eyes, he walked over to the far side of the room, ripping a hole in space and time for them to enter.

“Let’s go.”

Uzume sniffled. “W-where?”

Ikezu put his hands on his hips and gave her a serious look. “Stop whining and come on.”

The woman wiped her eyes, floated to her feet, and followed the nettled man into the portal, but not before casting one last mournful look at her once glorious now empty study.

On the other side, the two of them would emerge in a small village somewhere in the Land of Water - a quaint settlement surrounded on all sides by swampy waters. It was quite dark, but the burning torches made sure the place was lit even at night.

When they stepped out into the middle of the village, he motioned for her to follow as he walked towards the building farthest from the inner square. “In here. Clean yourself up before we go in, you’ll embarrass me.”

“This isn’t your dimension,” Uzume noted, sticking close to the cultist. “Where are we?” Her misery had all but vanished now and was replaced with wariness.

He ignored her questions, and rather, opened the door to the building in question.

“Just come inside.” Ikezu mumbled.

As soon as he opened the door, a small, old man jumped up and down behind a counter near the farthest side of the tiny abode. “Oh! Ikezu-sama! It’s been months!” He chimed in a gung-ho fashion.

He had brought her to a tiny store with various goods and knick-knacks. Aside from the abundance of useless junk the geezer sold, easels, canvases, paints, and pencils of all colors lines the shelves behind him. It was a rather small building, no larger than a handful of meters deep and half as wide. However, what he crammed behind the shelf made up for the mostly empty space in between them and the counter.

“Sup, Rio.” The cultist responded in a melancholy tone. Looking behind him, he motioned for Uzume to come in, which puzzled the old man.

“Who ya got with ya Ikezu? Come in! Come in!”

Uzume stepped inside the quaint shop, transfixed by the sheer amount of artistry supplies present. "How darling!" she trilled, walking around the store happily and examining easel stands and canvases.

“This is Uzume.” The cultist said while the woman looked around at Rio’s assorted wares and goods. “She needs some shit to paint on.”

“Hey, hey! No profanity in my store!” The salesman replied, jumping up and down angrily behind the counter. “Bad!”

After his comical fit, the old man would hop on top of the countertop, grinning as he looked at the celestial woman. “Anyways, what can I get for you? It’s not everyday I get such a pretty woman in my store, ho, ho!”

“Stop flirting, nasty fuck.” Ikezu grinned spitefully, much to Rio’s displeasure.

Uzume picked out a bushel of items as the two men squabbled, but she was overcome with a wave of pessimism. What good would acquiring new supplies be? She had failed the order, there was no coming back from it. No matter what she chose to do now, the watchful eye of the Shōgun was upon her now. It was only a matter of time before he decides to make an example of her.

Uzume replaced the items and floated solemnly over to Ikezu. “I really do appreciate this my dear, but I think I’ll pass on it.” She offered him a weak smile and turned to open a portal back to her estate.

Raising an eyebrow, Ikezu looked at her as she attempted to leave. “Why?”

Well, it did make sense. Assuming that guy was watching her, there wasn’t a point to just start making art again if he’d come erase it, or worse, erase her. It was upsetting to think about - she was doomed to reside in that grande mansion without her art.

“Nah.” The cultist said, grabbing her by the shoulder. “You wanna paint, right? You’re just gonna pout and whine otherwise, and I don’t feel like dealing with that. What’s your issue?”

Meanwhile, Rio panicked behind the counter, waving his arms about as he watched his only sale for the day slip out from between his grasp.

“My issue,” Uzume started, turning to face the impudent man. “Is that I can’t believe I put everything, my art, my comfort, my position, everything on the line for your life.” She snatched his hand off her shoulder and turned away from him, simmering with rage.

“The hell did I have to do with anything? You lost something and fucked up yourself, I didn’t do shit. Fucked around and found out, and here I am trying to do something for you and you’re snapping on me? For what?”

Why did women have to be so damn difficult? Was it that hard for her to own up to messing up? He literally had nothing to do with that man coming down; he’d just happened to be there when it did happen.

“Rio, put the supplies on my tab.” As he spoke, portals opened under each respective item she had picked out, dropping them into his homeworld for safe storage. One by one, they disappeared from their places from the shelves. “I’ll pay you at my leisure, that’s the best you’re getting.”

Before the old man could even reply, Ikezu opened another portal in front of the one Uzume had formed. With an indignant sigh, he pushed her with one arm into the portal.


“W-Wait! Ikezu! You haven’t paid the last one yet!”

But he was already gone, disappearing into the dark crack in space. As it closed behind him, Rio let out a loud “Hmph”.

“You must not know your place!” Uzume threatened as they appeared in a greyscale cave, her discontent ricocheting off its stone walls. “To shove me through a portal and speak to me that way,” She rounded on Ikezu and placed a purple-tipped finger on his chest. “I could destroy you right now. Bring down this entire dimension!” Uzume leaned closer to him and whispered in a chilling tone laced with venom, “Or better yet, seal you in a scroll for all eternity.”

Just as her finger closed in on his chest, a small layer of thin blue energy served as a barrier between them. The tiny speckle that lied between their skin glowed eerily.

“Watch it.” The cultist snarled, his voice reverberating through the chasm. As soon as he said that, a violent blue aura burst from his body. The air surrounding him swirled viciously, forcing everything back a bit as the vortex ensued. His Byakugan shined an ominous, pale pink color. As his hair became white like wool, two massive horns made of bone sprouted from the sides of his head, curling upwards and almost creating a circle as the two tips nearly touched.

In all directions, the blue aura stretched out and whipped around, being the only source of color in the world aside from the two beings present. Ikezu began to float, as if the energy were suspending him in the air as it encompassed his being, and manifested a pair of bone claws as he had before.

“This is my world.” He stated, looking down at her from his place above. Behind him shined the two suns, flooding light into the cave through the opening in the soil. “I let you here, to fucking give you something. Maybe you should stop being so damn ungrateful.”

When it came to the Issuinoyume, no one could oppose him in his own world. Everything here was, in a way, under his control.

“It’s a pointless fight here. So stand down.”

Uzume glared up at the cultist and shook her head. “I’m over a thousand years old. Your little show is the tamest I’ve seen by far.” She drew a purple kanji in the air, causing the space around Ikezu to detonate in a series of flameless explosions, the shockwave snapping trees and leveling bushes in a considerable radius.

The cave shook as the explosion ensued. Smoke wafted in the air and rose into the sky through the entrance to their cave.

But as the smoke settled, her adversary simply remained floating in place, unharmed and unfazed. The blue aura enveloped every inch of his body, shielding him from the onslaught.

“What did I tell you?” He said menacingly. “You’re as stupid as you are repulsive.”

Uzume activated her Byakugan and observed the flow of the Issuinoyume. With both hands, she drew a pair of orange kanji then reached out as if grasping something. With effort, as if dragging something impossibly heavy, she pulled her arms inward, causing the realm to quake. “What did I tell you? I will reduce your precious world to nothing!”

Ikezu’s gaze sharpened, and the aura simply disappeared. In an instant, the dimension’s trembling ceased.

Silence befell the cave for a moment, and the Akashōkami’s expression became serious, sadistic, and utterly irritated. The sheer amount of arrogance that pooled off this woman irked him. He remembered when she’d tried to torture him, kept him in a scroll as a plaything, and put him through so much unnecessary trouble.

“You won’t do anything. Ever again.”

Suddenly, Uzume’s body began to rapidly lose mass. As if the air were taking fat and muscle from her, the skin began to become baggy and empty. Her form has been stripped of its health, as if the effects of time were accelerated a thousand fold. Even on the body of an Ōtsutsuki, it was too much. No single being could simply withstand the time-warping effects of Ikezu’s ace-in-the-hole.

She had become gaunt, brittle, and utterly disgusting. Her bones were clearly visible through her damn-near translucent skin.

Just as her body seemed it couldn’t become any worse, her hair falling out at this point, Uzume’s flesh began to rapidly rot and deteriorate. Skin ripping and exposing the bones underneath. In this realm, the Yowohinitsuide’s power was infinite. Anything and everything that wasn’t apart of the world would instantly succumb to its influence. Behind her, the art supplies he’d dropped off earlier simply disintegrated.

And if this kept up, she would too.

The dying Celestial loosed a broken caterwaul as her remains collapsed to the ground in a heap. Her left over skin sloughed off her skull and her eyes, the last things to go, liquefied into muck.

“Tear down this world now.” The omnipotent being hissed as his adversary melted away. How ignorant she’d been, assuming because of her status and role in her world that she could challenge him in his own domain. Was she mad? Sure, he’d have trouble dealing with her anywhere else, but one thing was for sure; he had no equal in the Issuinoyume.

Ikezu watched as her liquidized flesh oozed onto the stone. She’d been so beautiful before, and now she wasn’t even recognizable. It pained him, barely, but it didn’t take much to turn around and float outside the cave. He’d leave her to rot in solitude.

Something stung his chest as he exited the rocky cavern. It was that presence that had lured him to Uzume’s planet in the first place. It was…elsewhere now.

“I’ll find you.” He mumbled, taking one last look at the woman’s remains before disappearing into a dark vortex.

The elevator opened to an extensive system of branching hallways with conversing voices bouncing through them. Truly, it was more like a maze and most of those inside knew the way out. If not for Megumi’s Byakugan, they’d never found their way through. She could clearly see the crowd heading towards the entrance of an auditorium, where exquisitely dressed participants awaited.

“How do you know where to go?” questioned Yūshin, sticking close to her. “It’s almost as if you’ve been here before.”

“It’s all in these eyes,” She said, pointing to her Byakugan. “With them, there’s nothing I can’t see through.”

“So that’s what that eye does, huh. No wonder he was always able to find me.” Yūshin frowned and shook his head. “All this power Celestials possess, yet you all use it for evil.”

Megumi cast him a withering glance. “You all?”

“Except you!” he replied hastily, raising his hands. “Except you.” Megumi rolled her eyes and they continued their slog, coming up on the main entrance to the ceremony.

A well-built Ōtsutsuki stuck his arm out, blocking their way, muscles bulging through his shirt. He stood guard to the set of double doors leading to the auditorium. Other guests strode right past them, leaving the three alone.

The sentry gazed down at the two, taking them in. “Your vessel can’t attend.”

Megumi tightened her jaw and sharpened her gaze, meeting his eye. “The clerk said he could.”

“And I’m saying it can’t.” He stepped forward, towering over her. “Is there going to be a problem?”

Before she could snap back a command, a new presence in the range of her Byakugan emerged from a portal.

“The hell?” the Ōtsutsuki muttered before dashing off into the direction of the latest arrival.

Megumi grabbed Yūshin’s arm and dragged him along.  

“Shouldn’t we be running the other way!?” Yūshin complained, regretting every decision he's made thus far.

Meanwhile inside the auditorium, from a portal emerged a crouching, inky silhouette, white eyes that shone eerily. The culprit behind the sudden hush in the auditorium seemed to be taking in the new scene; a sensory overload in comparison to where he had just been. As he slowly stood up, he scanned the area, seemingly intent on locating something.

"Fucking dead end again, huh?" the husky voice said, followed by an exasperated sigh. "Every time, it just fades away."

The white haired cultist stepped out into the open from behind a curtain to a crowd of Celestials and green folk. These people were built like goblins from a storybook. Ikezu had seen a lot of weird shit in his day, but these tall gremlins were new to him. It wasn't important, the dark presence wasn't coming from the crowd. In fact, he didn't feel it at all.

It was so annoying...

But he had no time to dawdle and worry about that. From down the hall, he could see approaching Celestials. Readying himself, Ikezu simply waited for the potential threats to make their way to him.

"What have we here," drawled a bored voice from behind him. Ikezu craned his neck to see a finely dressed Ōtsutsuki sizing him up at a round table in the center of the stage. More of the gremlins sat along with him, dressed just as well.

"We will handle the intruder Lord Mikaboshi and Queen Imōkuma!" answered a gang of Celestials and Kumalapheans, surrounding the cultist like hawks.

The eyes of the Akashōkami gleamed intimidatingly. He turned his body to face the stoic-faced Celestial that spoke from the table. He didn’t acknowledge the ring of individuals around him. He wasn’t interested in them.

“Didn’t mean to make a mess, but we’re here now.” Ikezu said, cocking his head to the side as he spoke. For a moment, he checked out the surrounding Celestials and green-folk. They weren’t anything special by Ōtsutsuki standards - small fry in his book. Then again, he wasn’t exactly here to mercilessly slaughter anyone in his way. It wasn’t a bad idea though.

“Fuck it.”

A massive, heavy aura roiled off of Ikezu’s body, spreading its influence in every direction. His palms lit up with a bold blue light. The simple release of his chakra was enough to send a wave rolling through the room as his aura pushed its way through the crowd, ruffling the hair of the pesky Celestial who seemingly commanded the group around Ikezu.

He readied himself, crouching a bit and holding his fists at his sides.

“Y’all comin’ or what?”

"Wait," boomed the seated Celestial, now standing. His eyes narrowed on Ikezu, which were curiously yellow in color and not at all like the commonplace Byakugan. "I will handle him." The moment the words left his mouth, his shadow began to twist and writhe before darting out towards Ikezu's.

As soon as the shadows began to streak towards Ikezu, his eyes widened. Although it was faint, he felt it. So, this was the form the presence had taken? The being that called out to him was this Celestial? But why?

He leapt into the air, drawing the shadows upwards before blitzing the Ōtsutsuki in a quick dive. Ikezu was far quicker than he used to be - even more agile than when he had fought Hiruko. The Akashōkami would land adjacent to his adversary, cranking a fist brimming with power as he attempted to drive a hole in his foe’s chest.

“You’ll regret bringing me here!” he screamed, his fist barreling towards Mikaboshi’s chest cavity.

A wall of darkness erected between them, blocking the strike. Tendrils crept up the cultist’s legs, beginning to drain his chakra.

“I’m unsure of what you’re babbling about,” replied Mikaboshi. “Your own foolishness is what brought you here.”

No, there was no mistake. This was the source of the evil he’d been feeling. Whether he admitted it or not. Was he lying, or was he unaware? Either way, it didn’t matter, for he planned on beating the truth out of him regardless.

As his attack cracked the barrier, he rebounded a bit, catching himself on one leg before crouching and taking flight. He took off into the air again to get over the tendrils, not worried about the tiny bit of chakra they managed to siphon. Latching onto the ceiling with his chakra, he crouched upside-down as he formed a massive arsenal of blue chakra weapons. Naginatas, katanas, shuriken, and many other weapons that he could hurl his opponent’s way. All of them laced with the unique sealing technique his Eighty Gods bore after his ascension.

Being as wide range of an attack as it was, he would most likely mutilate the crowd around them. Too bad for them.

With a motion of his hand, he sent the grand arsenal flying towards the Celestial, his weapons being able to cover the whole opposite side of the room with their reach. Everything was getting skewered.

Mikaboshi shook his head in disappointment as his shadow nimbly streaked about the room, blocking and absorbing each conjured chakra weapon. The crowd offered a weedy applause.

"I'm unimpressed; they say you had a hand in the defeat of Hiruko, but a display as pitiful as this can't possibly make it true," the shadow savant remarked. He directed his tendrils towards the upside-down cultist and held his right hand open to the side, as if preparing for something.

”As am I.” Akashōkami retorted from his place on the ceiling, as his hands flowed more violently with the ever-growing energy.

The shadowy-tendrils, and the shadow as a whole, began to dissipate only moments after swallowing up his seal-infused blades. Normally, the technique was used to siphon chakra from living things; it was a somewhat slow process because it was being ripped from the bearer of the seal.

However, in this situation, the seals themselves were now embedded in the shadow - multiple, at that. He could draw chakra from the shadows at anytime his opponent poured into them. Ikezu grinned while hanging upside-down, like a manic bat.

Horror befell the crowd as he hopped down from his perch. The Akashōkami faced the emissary of darkness down with his glowing Byakugan. The energy he released was getting out of hand, now cracking the floor beneath them and causing the ceiling to groan.

“I wonder if killing you will lead me to the source.” He grimaced, spreading his arms apart as debris fell from above. His power was shaking the very foundations of the establishment. The Eighty Gods Vacuum Attack wasn’t meant for indoor use, let alone multiple stories off the ground.

”Don’t get too cocky,” Mikaboshi warned. The building groaned from the sheer amount of pressure the cultist’s chakra gave off. “Evacuate everyone!” he ordered to the onlooking guards with a dismissive wave of his hand.

As the crowd was escorted out of the auditorium, some crying and screaming in fear of the falling debris, Mikaboshi extended his right arm towards Ikezu.

“You think I didn’t see the properties of your little attack? If that’s your trump card, then you’re as good as dead.” In that instant, a sickening presence washed over the human and infused into his own shadow. “Have fun fighting yourself, worm.” The Celestial ushered the people seated at the round table off the stage and moved to leave as well.

Meanwhile, Ikezu’s shadow rose from its position and morphed into the likeness of its owner, a dark, exact copy of him. The effects of his seals had been transferred, turning it against him.

When the shadow came to life, Ikezu could feel the seals affecting him in the slightest. A tiny bit of his own chakra was leaving his body and going to the shadow. A clone of himself. The disrespect.

Two small portals appeared in the palms of his hands at the focal point from which his chakra was being released - the medium through which he would cast his Yowohinitsuide. A sinister screech reverberated throughout the room as it fell to the influence of his technique. In mere seconds, the shadow was vaporized, being reduced back to the simple dark patch it had been previously.

The chakra it had absorbed from him was returned upon its time being reversed, fueling his reserves and allowing him to once again obtain Mikaboshi’s own chakra. As for the seals, they would once again find their way back into Ikezu’s adversary’s shadow. Everything was once again in place as it had been before. They were back to square one.

Except Ikezu was now ahead.

As soon as the Issuinoyume began to take its effect, the Akashōkami’s horns sprouted as they had done previously in his home dimension. The energy that enveloped his arms began to crackle and streak off his arms in a more concentrated form. As soon as he transformed, the air around him instantly changed.

With a wave of his hand, he expanded the area of effect the Yowohinitsuide possessed, as the space around him was now apart of his dimension. Covering the whole room, he sought to freeze anything and everything in his path.

”Intruig-“ Mikaboshi was cut off and he froze in place, being held fast by the clutches of time.

Everything in the room was still. Falling debris and chunks of the ceiling froze in its tracks as Yowohinitsuide took its effect on the scene. Mikaboshi’s face was paused in its state of wonder, as if he were awe-struck by the power that bound him in place.

Yowohinitsuide was the ultimate retribution - a manifestation of Ikezu’s pain in the Issuinoyume. Stasis wasn’t fun, not in the slightest.

Seeing that everything was now under his control, Ikezu relinquished the Issuinoyume’s hold on himself. As his horns vanished and his hands relaxed, the power that emanated from his body slowly disappeared. He was beginning to understand the full capacity of his technique’s power. But still, he wondered if it was truly a gift from Jashin, or if this was something he’d awoken on his own.

Shaking his head, he would save these questions for later. Ikezu would move to make his way over to Mikaboshi, intent on killing him for his insolence.


He clutched his chest, gritting his teeth as blood squeezed it’s way out. As much as he’d been relying on the Issuinoyume’s power as of late, it was taking its toll on his body. He hasn’t fully recovered from his little scuffle with Uzume, if he could even call it that. Harnessing the unadulterated, wrathful chakra that dimension possessed proved to be a difficult task even for one conceived there.

He cursed again, regaining his composure and wiping the blood from his jaw with the back of his hand. Deep down inside he knew; knew he had to do better.

Megumi kicked into overdrive as she sensed a familiar yet sinister shift in the atmosphere.

It can’t be him, she thought, still dragging Yushin along through the chaotic throng of fleeing Kumalapheans. On the other side, they escaped the green tide to see none other than Ikezu standing before who could only be Mikaboshi Ōtsutsuki, seemingly frozen in place.

“What is this?” questioned Yūshin, taking in the scene in awe. “Everything feels… wrong.”

“Ikezu,” uttered Megumi. “That bastard Keshin, he brought you back after all!”

When Megumi and her companion had entered the room, the cultist perked up. He hadn’t felt this presence in a long time; not since his past life. An irritant itch, but almost soothing at the same time.

As the aura tickled his senses, a series of memories all washed over him in an instant. Explosive battles, shared goals, and an untimely demise. He and the one behind him had quite the history, even though they had only spent a short amount of time together. It felt like eons, almost like they were bound together by some greater force.

And as proof of that, here they were again. He flashed a slightly crazed, but genuine smile as he turned around.

It was, as he’d expected, none other than Megumi. And someone else was with her? A man, a tad bit shorter than him, and covered in strange markings.

“So, as soon as I die, you replace me?” Ikezu chuckled, not even bothering to greet his long lost acquaintance. “My tattoos look better.”

She smirked at his quip while Yūshin scowled distasteful.

“Oh come on, you have something in common with someone new and you start on the wrong foot.” Megumi chastised, folding her arms. “Yūshin, this is Ikezu, an insufferable Jashinist that’s really a softie.”

All color drained from the extraterrestrial man’s face. “J-Jashinist?!”

“Fuck you.” He groaned, replying to Megumi’s comment. Then, seeing Yūshin’s reaction to the “Jashinist” bit, he growled his way. “And what about it?”

“Anyways, why are you here?”

Megumi floated up and over to the frozen Celestial Being. “Same reason you are I see. For him.” she said, tilting her head towards Mikaboshi.

”Well I’m leaving him like that.”

Putting two and two together, he deduced that Megumi must have also felt the same presence that had been harassing him for so long. She had a history of getting involved with these types of things, as did he. Even so, Mikaboshi only seemed to be one of several outlets for whatever it was; only it’s influence was felt.

“He isn’t the source of whatever it is.” The cultist suddenly said, staring off into space for a moment. “There’s something bigger here.”

”Source? I don’t understand what you mean. We’re only here because of… a portal malfunction.” It was the truth, but she felt she shouldn’t voice aloud Yūshin’s business. “Mikaboshi’s presence was a stroke of luck.” Yūshin nodded in agreement.

”It was anything but luck.” He mumbled in response, visibly irritated by the encounter. He kept planet-hopping in hopes of locating this thing that had called out to him. It were as though it didn’t want to be found.

“Whatever. Where are you two going?”

Ikezu decided that it would be easier to locate the malignant presence if he stuck with Megumi - she’d find it accidentally, knowing her.


The trio turned to face the new voice, a lone female Kumalaphean dressed in a lithe, leather armor.

“At least, not without me.” She flipped her black hair and approached the group, inciting Yūshin to move Megumi behind him and leer at her.

“Aren’t you tough?” she mocked, not at all deterred by the man. “I doubt the infamous Megumi Ōtsutsuki requires your protection.”

“Me?” Megumi pushed past Yūshin and gave the woman her full attention. “Infamous?”

“Of course, you’re the only Ōtsutsuki in the galaxy to thwart the destruction of a planet.” She extended her green finger towards the Celestial. “Which is why I’m coming with you, wherever you may go.”

Where the hell did she come from?

“Right, because she had absolutely no help.” Ikezu said, butting in. “Who the fuck are you? And why are you green?”

The woman smirked mischievously. “Onikuma, Princess of Kumalaphe. As for why I’m green… that’s simply an asinine question.”

“Yeah right.” He mumbled, turning back around to face the frozen Celestial. Megumi’s group, albeit distracting, wasn’t relevant to the question at hand. While the reunion was somewhat nostalgic, he had bigger fish to fry.

Walking over to the being in question, Ikezu stared into his eerie yellow eyes. The abilities he’d displayed prior to his stasis were intriguing, to say the least. All these Ōtsutsuki, at their core, were the same, but their abilities vastly differed from being to being. It was a frightening reminder of how massive the universe really was.

Not everyone would succumb to the Akashōkami’s power so easily, he had to grow stronger. He had to find the source of this presence, be it for his own gain, or to simply vanquish it.

Placing a hand on Mikaboshi’s shoulder, he siphoned the tiniest bit of his chakra. A volatile, dark chakra. It was a repulsive energy, yet soothing in a way; brimming with power. Mere moments after absorbing some, he felt rejuvenated, as if some divine energy had washed over his entire being.

Closing his eyes, he tried to use this energy as a basis for tracking its root. Something was influencing this being; something far stronger than him.

“Show me…where it is.”

”So this must be what you meant by presence,” remarked Megumi who had left Onikuma and Yūshin to bicker amongst themselves. “I did sense an… evil about him, but I didn’t think anything of it.” She focused her Byakugan and noticed a wretched quality to Mikaboshi’s chakra, moreso than what Ōtsutsuki usually bore. “You’re looking for the source now? What can you feel?”

He grimaced for a moment as the primordial evil’s essence bathed over him. For a moment, he could pinpoint another trace of the aura - a familiar scene.

“I found it.”

And just like that, he ripped open a portal, jumping in and leaving the Celestial behind.

Megumi leapt in after him, with Onikuma and Yūshin rushing in as well.

The Sixth God traversed the crumbling halls of the ornate building he’d been drawn to. This planet was…strange. Populated by green beings with pointy ears and sharp features, he felt out of place with all these gremlins running around. He definitely wasn’t here to sightsee; this place made him rather uncomfortable. Something about the atmosphere felt off.

As he made his way up to the central auditorium, he couldn’t help but wonder why Ikezu had come here. Of all the places he could have cut up and caused trouble, he picked here. For what purpose?

Or, had he finally gotten his act together, and figured out his true purpose?

Either way, leaving such a noticeable trail of destruction in his wake was about as arrogant as it got. In a way, Keshin was having second thoughts about reviving the Akashōkami. But every piece was necessary, and Ikezu played a pivotal role in the universe’s survival.

It couldn’t be helped.

“It’s cold.”

Looking around, Keshin was almost shocked by what he was seeing. The auditorium was completely frozen in time; falling objects and pavement stood bound by the jaws of Ikezu’s temporal manipulation. All around him was a living testament to the cultist’s immense power.

It was the one technique even Keshin himself had to be wary of - the Yowohinitsuide. The gift of Ikezu’s late creator, Yomishiki Ōtsutsuki.

In the center of this scene was the celestial who was responsible for drawing the manic being here. An extra pale Ōtsutsuki with long, wavy hair. His yellow eyes burned with both wonder and fear, as if he were in his last moments before some calamity befell him.

As he grew closer to him, Keshin was able to differentiate his dōjutsu from the rest of the Ōtsutsuki he’d faced - it wasn’t an eye he saw often. Peculiar.

“Speak to me.” The Sixth God demanded as he reached out with his hands, both swirling with dark, yin energy. In a flash, everything around them was freed from the Issuinoyume’s grip, debris crashing down for a moment before all was still, albeit damaged nonetheless.

“Who did this to you?” Keshin asked, suddenly towering over the Celestial. It was definitely quite a sight to wake up to.

“-ing.” Mikaboshi gazed into the Six God’s eyes, a frown painting his face. “The eyes of Yomishiki. Keshin Enenra. To what do I owe the displeasure? Surely you don’t approach me for the human.”

“I’ll approach you for what and how I desire.” The ronin replied in his smooth undertone. “Why was he here?”

“How should I know? He merely blabbered something about me being “the source””. Mikaboshi frowned as he still feel the effects of the cultist’s seal. How annoying. The Celestial linked his shadow with that of a subordinate and transferred the seal into their own. He would kill the doomed being later.

“Source.” The Sixth mumbled, rubbing his jaw with his index and thumb. Keshin smiled as he looked down at the detestable Celestial. “I don’t sense anything from you; you’re just another pig playing games with the cosmos. Rolling around in your own pit of self-absorbed feces. You Ōtsutsuki can’t see anything past your grand Will, can you?”

“You’re all pitiful.” The Sixth continued, condescension rolling off him in waves as he spoke. “You aren’t in any position to talk shit about the human who effortlessly incapacitated you.”

Mikaboshi’s amber eyes and shadow flared indignantly, but he reeled in his growing ire. “Effortlessly? That inferior being relied on my own power to stand even a ghost of a chance.” The Celestial turned his back to Keshin, a fatal move, but he was certain Yomishiki had not come to fight. “Heed my words traitor; we’re all pawns in this game, you included. Only a few more pieces to move before the inevitable checkmate.” Mikaboshi opened a rift and vanished through it, leaving his words heavy in the air.

Keshin was now left by himself to contemplate his next move in silence. As the wispy portal closed shut, he couldn’t help but smirk in sadism.

“Whatever you say.”

Snow bore down on the roof of the Sixth God’s cabin. Light thumping noises were heard from inside as the frigid onslaught ensued. The blizzard had only grown more intense since Keshin had left; the windows now freezing over was proof.

It was a quaint little home, but it was nice. Ōgyoku, his dog, was lying down in the middle of the living room on the carpet that lined the area between the two couches. Behind the living area was a modest kitchen, then a hall just to the side of it. The home was brightly lit by a chandelier that hung over the content dog by a silver chain.

Ōgyoku whimpered, staring out the window from his place on the floor, anticipating Keshin’s return.

”He’ll come back,” Hachiman cooed, seated in a reclined chair before the dog. “He always does.” Although she had no clue what he departed for, the swordswoman was certain Keshin wouldn’t get himself killed… at least, not yet.

In response to her attempt to comfort him, the beastly dog perked up and looked her way. Raising his ears, his tongue drooped from his mouth and his tail slowly wagged before he got up and trotted over to her.

He let out a loud, yawning whine before laying his head in her lap, looking up at her and wagging his tail, demanding that she pet him.

”Okay, okay,” she laughed, humoring the dog with scratches and pets. “Sometimes I wonder how someone like him ended up with such a good dog.”

Ōgyoku did his doggie smile and enjoyed the rubs as his tail wagged furiously. That is, until she passively insulted his master. Lifting his head up quickly, he looked at her and barked before calming down, walking over to the other side of the room and growling in a low tone.

”Oh please, you’ve got as much attitude as he does,” remarked Hachiman, shaking her head.

Turning around, the dog faced her before sitting down and scratching his ear with one of his hind legs. As soon as he’d satisfied the urge, he happily bounced over to his bowl and began to wag his tail fiercely before barking again.

He wanted food.

Ōgyoku slapped the dish with his paw, sending it sliding across the wood floor until it hit the carpet. It then flipped onto its side and rolled until bumping into Hachiman’s ankle, falling right in front of her feet.

The dog barked again, eager to eat.

Hachiman stood with a sigh and fetched a large, juicy slab of meat from the ice box.

“Here you go,” Hachiman said, placing the morsel in the dog’s dish.

Ōgyoku eyed the meal before turning his head, pushing the bowl away with his nose. He then looked up, and what happened next would be a moment Hachiman never forgot.

“I want…steak…”

He spoke in a guttural, demonic, two-toned voice - it did not match his body in the slightest. “Medium-rare, cut into nice small pieces so I don’t choke. The hell was Master thinking bringing home such a useless woman.”

Hachiman was stunned by the animals sudden verbiage.

“So you can speak? All this time you’ve remained silent until now… to demand how you’d like a steak to be cooked?!”

He simply pawed the ground and yawned. “Yeah I can talk. I’m a demon, lady. And you talk a lot yourself, only ever opening your mouth to diss Master like that. You’re lucky he brought you back. I would have left you dead if it were me.”

“Medium-rare. Get on it.”

With blinding speed, Hachiman appeared in front of the self-proclaimed demon and knelt down, her Byakugan activated.

“It seems you wouldn’t be able to kill me even if you tried, so how about ceasing the impudence and explaining yourself.” Hachiman glared down at the beast, the vessels around her eyes growing more prominent with annoyance.

“Why would I wanna kill you when you’re making my food? It’s too late for that; you’re already here.” The animal responded, putting his paws on her shoulder as he jumped up and licked her nose. “I thought you said I was a good dog.”

“But you’re bad. We don’t talk about Master that way. He’s been through enough, I’m a living testament to his suffering.”

”How about this,” Hachiman said, rising to her feet. “You tell me what you know about Keshin, and I’ll be sure your steak is up to your standards.” While she knew of Yomishiki, she did not know him. He was nothing more than a fading legend until he appeared at her estate.

As he hopped down from her shoulders, Ōgyoku nodded and spun in a little circle. “Okay! That sounds fair. What do you wanna know?”

”What exactly has Keshin been through? You speak as if he didn’t bring it upon himself when he betrayed the clan eons ago.”

Ōgyoku laughed at Hachiman’s naive remark. “The clan? Master has no family. He wasn’t born; he just began existing.” The dog laid down on the floor as he began to tell the tale of the Sixth God.

“Yomishiki and Master are two separate entities; you all assumed this wasn’t the case because he possesses those eyes. In reality though, they couldn’t be more different. Master never betrayed the clan, he’s never betrayed anyone in his life. You all hurt him first. You took everything from him.”

Two separate entities? This couldn’t be true. That would mean…

“What did we take?”

Ōgyoku gestured with his paw towards a rectangular object that sat on the coffee table next to Hachiman’s seat. A picture frame - face down, as if the picture wasn’t meant to be seen. The frame itself was worn, paint having scratched off and dust built up over its surface.

A relic that had stood the test of time.

Hachiman drifted over to the table and flipped over the picture frame, revealing Keshin and a beautiful woman embracing each other in front of the cabin. He was actually… smiling. A genuine smile brimming with happiness, not a condescending smirk.

“A lover of his?” Hachiman posed. “Is she why he’s on this mission of his?”

“Eighty years ago, one of you monsters came out of the sky and killed her.” The dog said, his tone becoming sad. “He rescued her from the manipulative situation she was in, and in return she became his light.”

“I’ve never seen Master smile, not since she died. Only when he’s with me; I’m the last bit of Kusari left.”

Ōgyoku rested his head on the floor, obviously upset while telling Hachiman about Keshin’s past. “I was her ninken, and she killed me unintentionally during a mission. I became vengeful, and possessed her. Heh…I thought I was the vengeful one.”

”I’ve never seen someone so consumed by darkness, and I’m a demon.” Looking up at Hachiman, the dog’s eyes were wide open, as if he were fearful.

“Now you know why he’s been killing you all off.”

”So a tireless quest for vengeance,” Hachiman knew a thing or two about the futility of seeking revenge. It nearly destroyed her at one point, and it was certainly going to be the inevitable downfall of Keshin.

Hachiman retrieved another steak from the refrigerator and placed it on the countertop. “A deal is a deal,” she sighed reaching into the spice cabinet then grabbing a skillet.

The dog’s mood suddenly changed, he jumped up and began to do laps around Hachiman. “YAY! I love steak!” At several points, the big dog would crash into her legs, nearly knocking the small woman over.

“I have another condition. Since I told you.”

”Which is?” pressed Hachiman as she began to season the meat with salt and pepper.

Ōgyoku put his paws on the counter and looked her in the eyes, grinning as human-like as a dog could while doing his best to not try and steal the steak. “I want you to give Master a hug. Tell him it’ll be ok. Maybe he’ll be nicer after that.”

The beginnings of a smile crept onto Hachiman’s face. “No promises.”

Ōgyoku simply lolled his tongue back at her. “Whatever. Just hurry on the steak!!!”

Hachiman seared the steak to perfection, sliced it, and served it to the demon dog on a fine plate. She herself wasn’t hungry, in fact, Celestial Beings only ate food such as this for pleasure. She did, however, serve herself a glass of wine. Hachiman leaned against the counter, sipping her wine and watching Ōgyoku greedily ogle his meal.

As soon as she lowered the bowl, the poor Inugami began to drool all over the floor. Bobbing his head up and down as he bounced back and forth on his big paws. The steak smelled delicious, and she’d even cut it so he didn’t choke.

“I like you.” Ōgyoku concluded, barking once before he began to ransack the bowl. “I’m glad Master is keeping you.”

No sooner than when he finished speaking, the door to the cabin would open. Stopping through the doorway, Keshin entered the cabin to the sight of his dog and guest relaxing in the kitchen. When he walked in, Ōgyoku would bark several times and run towards him in his puppy-like manner, rubbing his head all over Keshin’s legs.

“Hi, boy.” The Sixth said, patting his head before making his way to the kitchen, demon dog trailing close behind.

“You cooked him a meal?” He asked, somewhat shocked. “The house looks clean.”

”He was hungry,” said Hachiman, shrugging her shoulders. “And someone has to keep this place tidy, although it is your home.”

He looked to the side at her remark, taken aback by the comment. “I guess I don’t think about it.” He mumbled, inwardly seething at how passive-aggressive she could be.

“At least he’s happy though.” Keshin patted Ōgyoku, who was now sitting at his side. “He wasn’t too much trouble, was he?”

”Not at all,” she took another sip. “He just lounged around until he got hungry.” Hachiman set the glass down and regarded Keshin seriously. “So what did you do while you were away?”

“I was monitoring your friends.” He replied, motioning to Ōgyoku to go finish his food. The dog happily obliged and ignored the other two, gobbling his delicacy while they chatted.

“Just making sure everything is in order. No one is stepping out of line. Nothing too big.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Did…” She reeled in her irritation. “Did anyone see you?”

“No one important.”

He sensed the worry in her voice, like she was concerned for his well-being or something. It annoyed him that she felt as though he wasn’t capable of dealing with her clansmen.

“You don’t need to worry about that right now. I was just checking in on some things.”

”You don’t understand Keshin,” Hachiman stated, clenching her fists. “Anyone Ōtsutsuki you make contact with reports directly to Omoikane! Do you really want him to destroy this planet? Your village? Your people?! All it takes is for you to cross one wrong Celestial Being for him to be able to trace your energy signature.”

He just looked down at her, not fazed in the slightest. “I’m perfectly aware.”

Keshin looked out the window past her, watching the snow gracefully float down and fade away into the white blanket that coated the lands outside. “It’s not likely. There’s something far more concerning than my presence out there, at least in his eyes. As condescending as you are to me, even after I killed you, you yourself don’t seem to view me as a particularly large threat.” He smirked, that dry humor clear in his tone.

“I doubt the Ōtsutsuki Shōgun would waste his time with a lowly rōnin such as myself. But he’ll learn.”

“They always do.”

The menagerie of beings, Ikezu, Megumi, Yūshin, and Onikuma, were transported to a vast jungle environment teeming with strange and foreign lifeforms, the most prominent being oversized insects of many varieties.

The Akashōkami would take in their surroundings; a vibrant atmosphere where everything was too big. He couldn’t help but be in awe at the sheer amount of wildlife that they were engulfed by. Massive crawling creatures with exoskeletons that seemed to be made of keratin even harder than steel. It was truly astounding.

“Damn. These guys are huge.” He remarked, obviously entertained by the huge creepy-crawlies.

It was a melting pot for all sorts of sentient life. He could feel the overwhelming amount of natural energy pooled beneath their feet. It was thick, but not brooding like the gloomy nature of what was trapped inside of him.


“The source has to be around here.”

”What’re you going on about?” said Onikuma, equally intrigued by their sudden change in surroundings. “Source of what?” Yūshin looked to the cultist as well expectantly, while Megumi surveyed the new location with her sensory prowess.

Ikezu ignored the green princess and the simple-minded vessel as he began walking off into the jungle. He was too close to whatever it was nagging at him, it was about time he confronted it.

Paying no mind to his accompanying party, he would disappear into the thick underbrush, distancing himself from the immense creatures scampering about.

”He’s going to get himself killed running off like that…” muttered Yūshin, who had decided to stick close to Megumi. Onikuma strayed from the group, interested in a particularly colorful insect slinking into the brush.

“He can handle himself,” Megumi replied, remotely observing Ikezu trod across the jungle floor. He seemed to be heading to a temple she took note of earlier, vaguely resembling the one she originally met him at. However, while she could sense and see a number of hidden insects that somehow possessed identical energy signatures, the one inside the temple was exquisitely dark, even moreso than Mikaboshi’s.

A scream pierced through the air, drawing Yūshin and Megumi’s attention.

Onikuma was missing.

Megumi scanned the area for Onikuma’s chakra, but again, she could only sense the exact same signature for miles. She could have been snatched by any one of the giant insects.

“Damn it,” she cursed. “I can’t get a lead on her.”

“Shame,” Yūshin turned and moved towards the way Ikezu went. “She’s tough. She doesn’t need us.”

“You can’t be serious,” Megumi scolded. “I didn’t leave you behind. I won’t do that to her.”

A droning sounded from the heavens, coming from an armada of flying insects, their formation obscuring the sun.

“What the…” trailed Yūshin as an obnoxiously bright powder fell, obscuring their vision.

“An ambush?!” Megumi reached out to the natural energy in the ether and began to bend the weather to her will. Before she could ravage the fleet with blustering gale, her knees gave out and she fell onto her chest, unable to speak or move.

The last thing she saw was Yūshin rushing towards her, face drawn in terror before her eyelids collapsed shut.

Having already been out of the attacker’s reach, Ikezu simply looked back as he heard the others in distress. He opted to ignore them. Pursuing whatever this was outweighed the safety of these two new acquaintances he’d made, besides, they had Megumi; she’d most likely pull through. They’d be fine.

If not, oh well…

He pushed through the leaves and branches. The Akashōkami would slowly hear the call of the presence haunting him louder and louder as he continued into the forest. Repeatedly calling his name in a whisper, getting louder, louder, and louder. Almost like a chant, it reminded him of the rituals they’d undergo back home at the hideout.

Rituals. Was that what this had been?

Suddenly picking up speed, Ikezu began to move faster and faster until he went from a jog to a panicked run. There was no way, not all the way out here.

As he made it through the final bit of brush, he reached a clearing in the unforgiving jungle world. The grass was shorter here. In the center of the grotto, surrounded by a circle of trees was a massive temple. It’s image reflecting the one that Megumi had found him at, only much larger. He couldn’t believe his eyes, even the people here were aware of Jashin’s name? A sense of pride washed over him for a moment, until the voice in his head screamed aloud.


It came from the temple, he was sure of it. But how; surely Jashin himself wasn’t calling out to him? He’d heard his voice, but not in this way. The tone and sensation it left him with didn’t match up.

Not knowing what to expect, he would make a beeline for the temple’s entrance. A stone structure opened up by an archway. It didn’t take long for him to close the distance.

Once he’d made it inside, he looked around. Torches lighting up the central hallway on either side. As the light danced from the flames and cast its dancing reflection onto the brick pavement, Ikezu would walk the hall, curious as to who could be calling him.

It wasn’t Jashin, he refused to believe it.

“COME OUT!” He screamed, his voice reverberating throughout the chambers. “I’M HERE! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”


The voice roared to him, reverberating throughout the temple, it’s center being his long searched source…

It was tangible now, nearby and loud as usual. Spinning around in a three-sixty, he tried to locate it, but to no avail. It was deeper within the temple. In the very back was a large, open chamber that seemed to contain an altar of some sort - similar to the one they had back at his own hideout.

“WHO ARE YOU?!” He screamed again, making his way down the hall. “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

”Who am I?” Ikezu entered the chamber and came across a pale, gaunt Celestial Being sitting on the altar, legs crossed. The Celestial stood, his pair of blood red eyes boring into the cultist, “I have been called many names my child. The Dealer of Curses, Sower of Discord, Harbinger of Chaos.” He strode up to Ikezu and caressed his jaw with a sinister grin. “But to my followers… to you… I am the Jashin.”

He turned his head to the side as the self-proclaimed Jashin’s hand ran across his jaw, trying to avoid the uncomfortable contact. Gritting his teeth, Ikezu couldn’t help but feel a sense of anger and immense rage build up within him. Jashin; this wasn’t Jashin.

Part of him was conflicted, however. Could this be a trial? A test of his dedication? Had his god sensed the doubt that was welling up in his mind and decided to put him on the spot?

Horns…Ikezu couldn’t help but get the feeling that this was some Celestial trying to impersonate his god. Someone who’d been watching him…but for what reason?

Backing up, the Akashōkami stared into the being’s beady red eyes. His own blank sclerae reflecting the blood red.

“You’re not Jashin. You’re a fraud.”

Whether that was true or not didn’t matter anymore. He’d crossed the line; if his god struck him down here, then so be it. But if this wasn’t the Jashin he served, then he’d slaughter this false god and sacrifice him to the real Wicked Heart.

“It is natural to not accept god when he is standing in front of you, especially in the body of Celestial Being,” said Jashin as he paced around. “Rest assured, this substandard vessel is not my true likenesses.” Jashin turned away from Ikezu, facing a wall etched with strange glyphs. “I am aware of your doubts Ikezu. You believe yourself to have ascended to godhood. That the First Lord of Three Woes does not need me nor my cult.” The Wicked Heart chuckled, a perilous sound that chilled the room. Just standing in his presence was a difficult task.

He said nothing but truth, repeatedly hitting the nail on the head. How? Taking a step backwards, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“No…” Ikezu rebutted, standing tall and facing the supposed “Dealer of Curses.” He’d never even heard of that damn name, and it sounded lame as fuck to him. No way the Jashin he knew was going to let something like that fly.

“You aren’t Jashin. Not my Jashin. I serve the ONE TRUE GOD!” His sudden screams echoed out into the jungle, sounding like a tremendous roar from outside. “I LOVE JASHIN! I LIVE FOR JASHIN! AND I’VE DIED FOR JASHIN! I AM REBORN!!! DON’T YOU FUCK WITH ME!”

He was serious; and in this moment, his dedication to his god, after seeing this impersonator, was never stronger. He gripped his fists, taking a step towards he who claimed to be Jashin.

“You aren’t Jashin. You’ll never be Jashin. You’re some other evil trying to sway us into your fold by using that name”

“You disgust me.”

”What is the Jashin besides the inevitable evil of the universe?” The Harbinger of Chaos closed his eyes. “Who am I besides the one who will bring about the end all things? Reach out to me, my child, connect your mind to mine and understand.”

Narrowing his eyes, the Akashōkami glared back at the false deity before him. Maybe he was real, maybe he was a god, but one thing was for sure; he wasn’t the god Ikezu worshipped.

And that was all that mattered right now, any being who claimed that position and wasn’t the real Jashin was a fool for doing so.

“You aren’t him. He’s more than the looming doom of the universe. He’s my savior. You may be a god, but not my god. So spill it. Why did you lure me here? What do you want with me?”

”All will be revealed in the mental plane,” insisted the so-called god. “Where you can behold the truth of my spirit.”

“Fuck off.”

Massive amounts of natural energy began to be drawn into his body at a rapid speed, as if the planet itself wanted to feed him power. But the moment it touched his body, the rich, vibrant aura converted into a dark, malignant energy. More and more entered his body until he seemed filled to the brim.

His accursed senjutsu began to take its form. His entire left side became cloaked in a shadowy black haze, grafting itself to his face and radiating skywards. That same side’s hair turned black, the energy permeating through his scalp and discoloring his once salt and pepper hair.

A massive claw would appear on his left hand, shadowy and sharp. Everything on his left side screamed one thing…


“Show me here. You’re not taking me anywhere.” The Akashōkami said, groaning in several tones at once.

“Show me how immeasurable your evil is. Let’s compare!”

The Jashin dropped his hand and shook his head in what seemed to be disappointment. However a wide, foreboding grin split his face and his red eyes burned with intensity.

“The lost lamb challenging the eternal Shepard!” The temple began to tremble and the air became heavy, dank, and considerably hot. The Sower of Discord extended his arms to the side. “Come, God of the Perilous Road!”

He stared at the morbid being for a moment, his dark, abysmal senjutsu coursing all throughout his body. Every inch of him was filled with power; overwhelming black energy.

Ikezu reached out with his left hand, and from it shot a massive blast of raw senjutsu enhanced by the properties of the Abyss inside him. With him standing near the entrance to the back chamber they were in, he would fill the entire room with the violent blast; enough force to rip the walls down and destroy this false temple.

The explosion rocked the temple, destroying it completely and utterly, scattering large chunks of debris throughout the jungle. Insects skittered away as trees fell from the ensuing shockwave. In the center of the clearing dust stood the false god, seemingly unfazed and unmoved, arms still outstretched. However, areas of bloodless flesh appeared to be carved out, deteriorated from the energy within the blast.

“Is that all you can muster?”

As the energy settled, it left a black residue on the remaining bricks. Seeing that the victim was still standing, the energy began to bubble for a moment, until it burst into hundreds of massive tendrils that surrounded the Celestial on all sides.

Seemingly on their own, they all made an attempt to wrap around his neck, arms, and legs. They sought to rip him apart, like a massive kraken thirsting for blood.

The tendrils closed in and converged on his position, but the Jashin finally moved, taking to the air. Raising a hand towards the sky, three small sun-like orbs of chakra appeared and combined into a single, incredibly hot sphere. A small, dark flicker of a contrasting chakra flitted around the sphere like trapped fly.

“Can you survive mine?” taunted the Jashin.

From where he stood, Ikezu could vividly feel the intense heat pouring out of the hellish orb. Squinting, he would take off in the air after the airborne deity.

The Akashōkami would reach out with his left hand and force a massive amount of the Abyss’ energy out into his arm. This caused it to extend, and allowed his fingers to become like massive shields as they expanded. Creating this massive barrier between the two evils and the blazing projectile allowed him to block out whatever heat it projected. With another blast from his now enlarged arm, he would shoot the sphere far into the air, sending it far into the atmosphere.

As for Ikezu himself, he would channel the energy of his Eighty Gods into his right arm. Now that he’d caught up to the detestable creature, he would attempt to run him through with a single blow.

With ease, Jashin smirked and created a second identical sphere, skipping the first step, and aimed this one directly at the approaching cultist. With his other hand, he conjured the trio of sun-like orbs and launched them three separate ways, their immense speed and apparent tracking ability preventing any means of escape.

With nowhere to run, being airborne and all, Ikezu was in a bit of a predicament. Thus, he attempted to activate his Yowohinitsuide in order to reset the room in a way that he could gain the upper hand. From how he saw it, the fight wasn’t going to go anywhere at this rate. He had to lock a victory in stone; he owed it to his god.

But when he dispelled the Eighty Gods Vacuum Attack and opened his palm, the time-warping ability was nowhere to be found. Nothing happened.

For a moment, Ikezu was overcome by panic as the fireball shot towards him, but as soon as he began to freeze up, the dark energy that had overcome his left side would emerge from his right. Starting from his hand, it washed over his body, coating it completely until his entire form was bathed in black.

His eyes closed, sealed shut by the senjutsu cocoon. The fireball struck, but simply split down the middle when it came into contact with the energy.

As flames bathed the burned floor, the Akashōkami’s encasing would began to expand and crack, slowly growing bigger and bigger as the flaming orbs around him ignored his presence. The stasis chamber that was suddenly created floated eerily, shielding his body from all sorts of attacks that might strike him during his metamorphosis.

This wasn’t the power of the maker who breathed life into him, this was something darker. The other half of his parentage.

In a burst of white light, the cocoon exploded, shooting black sludge all over the room. The goo would coat the flying scorch spheres and wrap around them, diminishing them to nothing as they were swallowed up.

Then, from the light flew a massive, shadowy beast. It’s length at least double the length of the temple, and it’s head like that of a salamander. It, however, bore no markings or distinguishing features, aside from its six clawed appendages and eight, menacing white eyes.

It writhed in the sky, screaming and whipping about as it danced over the temple in a fit of rage. For the moment, it seemed to be oblivious to the false god’s presence. Not interested in what was going on down below, it roared repeatedly into the air, loud enough for everyone in a large vicinity to hear and be horrified.

As for Ikezu, he was nowhere to be found. The cocoon’s remains were empty; they’d left no sign of a dead cultist.

Then, in an instant, the shadowy sky-snake bore down on the the Celestial and the temple at a speed that defied everything that world had ever known. It was obvious that the being had no regard for harming itself, if such a reckless attack would even harm him. But now, he suddenly was after the Dealer of Curse’s life.

The Akashōkami was not destroyed, but reborn. First in the glory of the Issuinoyume, and now, powered by the force of the Abyss.

The Jashin, with unbelievable strength, shoved the beast from atop him, sending it slithering across the ground. A steam was rising from his skin and his skin was flushed to a bright red.

“Yes!” he bellowed, laughing maniacally. “Show me your wickedness!” The Harbinger of Chaos staggered his feet and bent his knees, cracking the ground beneath him. He then shot forward with speed comparable to that of the beast and struck it dead in the center of its flat head with his fist.

Not even fazed, the creature continued its downward assault, slamming into the earth with immense power and intent on taking the so-called Wicked Heart with it. The force of the collision utterly destroyed what remained of the temple.

The Jashin skirted around a headbutt, drenched in blood, and flew up and over the beast, his blood dripping onto its hide. In fact, the creature had several splotches of the Celestial’s blood spread on it.

After missing, Ikezu would be caught aback for a moment, stunned on the ground as the dark ooze began to coat his body. It healed any wounds he may have received and dissolved the blood of Jashin’s physical form. It was becoming more and more clear that the dark slime was more than just mere trails and pieces of his body, but actual, working antibodies and powerful defenses.

The Akashōkami would slither through the goo as he looked up. In a fit of anger, he released another deafening roar into the sky above. All life around them, if it hadn’t known beforehand, knew to get as far away as possible. It was a warning for what was to come.

The ground around Ikezu’s serpentine figure cracked open, and from the cracks seeped immense amounts of natural energy. Opening his mouth, he would take it in, absorbing the massive stream that had burst from the earth below.

It all happened so fast, but in addition, the remaining black goo that coated the ground shot up onto his body, covering him in a slick, shadowy shield that would deflect most physical attempts at his life. Only for a moment would it remain on his body, before shooting out in all directions and redirecting its course directly above him. The substance created a small, black orb; a single singularity.

Ikezu began to violently regurgitate the absorbed senjutsu energy into the focal point, causing it to rise and rapidly expand. It shot upwards towards the Dealer of Curses, but stopped just short of him.

Then, in a burst of white light, it suddenly exploded. It would engulf the entire area in an explosion comprised of the Abyss’ essence; a calamity of this caliber would wipe this entire area clean of life for kilometers. A crater that would mark the crossing paths of the Yabukyōgami and Jashin.

All Ikezu could do was tuck his head into his serpentine coils, allowing what was left of the ethereal goo to shield him from the majority of the blast.

As the light receded and the senjutsu chakra dissipated, the Jashin floated in the air, a shield of blood encapsulating his being.

“The power of Earth’s Abyss, how magnificently devastating.” More steam billowed from his body and he poised himself to strike.

Suddenly, he coughed, blood pouring from his mouth and nose. He gripped his chest and descended to the ground onto his knees, gasping and choking on his own blood.

“D-damn you Akari. You w-worthless…” He coughed violently and fell onto his belly. “Vessel.” With that, the Jashin breathed his last.

All Ikezu could do was tuck his head into his serpentine coils, allowing what was left of the ethereal goo to shield him from the majority of the blast.

Ikezu would rise from his place on the ground and slither over to where Jashin lied dead. In his giant form, all he could do was roar once more over the bleeding corpse.

And with that, the battle was over. There was nothing more left here. He’d won. Triumphed over the evil god, and proven that he wasn’t the true Jashin.

No one took his god’s name in vain and lived.

No one but him.

Bearing this thought in mind and having freed himself from the dark one’s influence, he would ascend into the sky, taking off in the direction he had came in search of Megumi and the others. He was in his right mind now, and ready to sow discord among his foes.

Yūshin bolted through the jungle. First Megumi and Onikuma were taken, now explosions rocked the jungle. Just what in the hell was going on? A shadow appeared over him as a dark presence sailed across the sky. It was much too big to be an insect. He looked up and saw a snake-like creature of shadows flying overhead.

“What kind of planet is this?!” he cried as he sped up.

Ikezu would swoop down upon seeing Yūshin, descending rapidly and snatching him up with his claws. Cradling him as he rose back into the air, he made sure to shield the man against the whipping air.

“Talk to me.” He growled in a deep, beastly voice. “Where’s Megumi?”

”Please don’t eat me,” he pleaded. “I didn’t even want to co-“ He stopped and craned his neck up to look at the creature. It held him too gingerly to be hostile. “She was captured by the insects… What are you?”

“Where would that be?” The massive draconic being asked, picking up speed in the direction his little companion had been running. “We’re going to save them.”

”I don’t know,” he sighed, relaxing in the monster’s grasp. “I was running after the creatures that took her, but they just vanished in the underbrush.” From his perch, Yūshin could see almost everything beneath them. Several miles north he could see a gigantic ant nest-type structure made of what appeared to be soil. Spider webs covered it, leaving only gaps at its peaks from which insects flew out of them.

“Do you see that?” asked Yūshin. “I’m certain they’d be in there.”

The massive beast would follow the stray vessel’s suggestion. Diving down towards the ground, he picked up speed in his earthbound fall.

Ikezu would halt just short of crashing into the strange structure, whipping his tail towards the enlarged mound as his head came up. With a loud “BOOM!”, the settlement would be branded with a massive gash where his body had struck, creating a massive opening and turning the dirt mound into a U-shape.

He screamed in his deathly roar once more, to signal to his adversaries to show themselves.

Dozens of enormous spiders crawled out the damaged mound and fell from the airborne chunks that Ikezu hastily attacked. They leapt and landed onto his body and began to weave webs around him in an attempt to restrain the beast.

The first thing Ikezu did when the spiders jumped onto him was shield Yūshin with his two upper claws, cupping the vessel to make sure he was safe. With a rip, the gooey substance he coated himself in would morph into a plethora of spikes, running the pesky critters through with ease. The Akashōkami violently shook around in order to get what little of the webs they had attached to him off.

As the dead bugs hit the ground with a splat, Ikezu would raise one of his massive hands in order to free Yūshin from his grip.

“We’re going in.” The Yabukyōgami hissed, coughing for a second as the eviscerated carcasses of the fallen spiders began to reek around them. Once again, he would slowly lower his hand, preparing to shield the vessel as they made their descent into the creepy-crawlies abode.

Before Ikezu could slam his monstrous body into the mound, more spiders emerged and once again attacked and webbed him, however, this time hundreds of giant bees flew into the fray, aiming their stingers at the intruders. What seemed like millions of flying beetles surrounded the Akashōkami, trapping him in an endless spiral of biting insects. He clawed through the cloud of pests and dropped Yūshin inside the mound, away from the raging spiders.

Ikezu was surrounded. No matter, the number was irrelevant, they were still bugs. Cutting loose and roaring loudly, the Akashōkami threw himself into the crowd, tearing at anything in his way.

Meanwhile, Yūshin ventured into the cavernous depths of the insect mound, desperately trying to find any trace of his captured companions.

“How hard can it be to find people in a fucking bug nest?!” he cursed as he hustled about. Truth be told, Yūshin could care less about rescuing Onikuma, she invited herself on this excursion and for that, she paid the price.

But to abandon Megumi? The one who went out her way to free him from that wretched mansion? He couldn’t.

The further he ran into the mound, the quieter it became. In fact, it was rather eerie, as if something was horribly wrong.

One foolish boy, roaming my halls…

Yūshin screeched to a halt.

“Who’s there?”

The other outside, slaughtering us all…

The voice reverberated throughout the soil corridors, coming from what seemed to be coming from everywhere.

Yūshin’s surroundings began to quake, as if something enormous was hurtling towards him. He took a step back.

A spindly, giant leg crept around the corner ahead of him followed by another. Then suddenly, the creature leapt out, revealing a titanic spider larger and more horrifying than any he’s seen thus far.

Without a sound, it took off toward him, it’s maw dribbling with saliva and multiple beady, red eyes focused directly on him.

Yūshin turned tail and ran, regretting every decision made up to this point.

Megumi awakened to an all-white scene, her body tightly bound together.

“Wha… Where am I?” she muttered groggily.

She could sense her binds were made of tough chakra and quite… sticky?

“Oh hell no!” she said, suddenly more alert as realization set in. “Am I in a cocoon?!”

Megumi took a deep, settling breath then used her senses to locate the weak point of the cocoon. Once she found it, she expelled a violent chakra from her nearest tenketsu, blasting a gaping hole in the cocoon.

She tore herself out of the wrapping and found herself dangling from a spider web surrounded by hundreds of cocoons.  

“What the hell…” Megumi muttered as she flew over to the nearest casing. Using her visual prowess, she could see a desiccated corpse within, numerous puncture fangs scattered across its body. As if it had been sucked dry. She examined all the cocoons and each bore the same burden.

A chill coursed up her spine.

The web trembled almost imperceptibly as a sizable black widow slinked towards the Celestial Being’s back, it’s eyes trained on her, so sure it had yet to be noticed.

A wooden spike sprouted from Megumi’s right shoulder then streaked towards the critter, pinning it against the earthen wall.

“I’ve had enough bugs for one day,” Megumi spat as she drifted down onto the ground. She could see them, at least a hundred spiders converging onto her position. The insects attacking Ikezu outside. She could even see Yūshin barreling through the mound, being chased by a spider unlike the others. There were too many and their numbers were endless. If there was as good as any time for it, it was now.

With a great rumbling, wood sprouted from all around her just as the first of the arachnids scurried into the chamber, skewering and crushing the creatures before her. The wood grew into towering trees and flower buds that disrupted the structure of the mound, granting entry to beaming rays of sunlight.

After witnessing the incredible Wood Release of the Ten-Tails on the other planet, Megumi dedicated time to attempting to re-create it and had been successful; the variant that came naturally to her bore flowering trees. She even managed to create other constructs besides her spikes.

As her Wood Release technique flourished, absorbing ambient natural energy and the chakra of captured spiders, she made her way to Yūshin, who had been backed into a corner.

“Get back!” shouted Yūshin as the ghastly spider prowled closer.

I will savor devouring you,” the talking spider croned. It spat a deceptively fast double layered web net at him, plastering the vessel to the wall behind him. “It’s a far better fate than what’s in store for you.”

As the spider crept towards it’s quarry, the ground beneath it trembled before a wooden dragon erupted from below and took its thorax in its powerful jaws, hoisting it into the air.

Megumi drifted down onto the head of the dragon, glaring at her prey.

“I see what you‘ve done with her,” she announced, focusing her Byakugan at the spider’s abdomen. Onikuma was inside, her chakra network, which somehow had a dark quality to it, was gradually being intertwined with the spider’s. “Detestable creature.”

Damned Celestial Being,” hissed the spider as it thrashed about. “To awaken so soon.” The arachnid began to shrink down, taking on a humanoid form. The result was a paper-white woman in a wing membrane-like dress with two pairs of arms. Atop her head was a black headdress that seemed to convey status.

The woman, with impressive strength, pried open the jaws of the wood dragon and slipped out of its grasp.

“The power of Amanozako’s transmigrant will be mine, Ōtsutsuki,” declared the woman, as she descended. She extended all four of her arms and tilted her head up haughtily. “I, Mushibaba, mother of all arachnids, leader of the insect tribe, will be loved and favored by the great Lord Ja-“

“Don’t move,” commanded Megumi as she appeared before the hag and grabbed her by the throat. She lifted and slammed Mushibaba into the ground then dragged her through it, flying with speed. She tossed her into the forest, sending her crashing through numerous tree trunks from the force of the throw before falling onto the ground.

The Celestial materialized in front of the battered hag and willed a root to grow around her as a restraint. Megumi reached down and yanked off Mushibaba’s headdress, revealing a seal on her forehead.

With her Byakugan, she could see the intricacies of its cursed formulae and devised a sealing release. Megumi placed her left hand onto the seal and began to weave hand signs with the right.

“No!” Mushibaba wailed. “I’m too close now!” A pulsation of dark chakra roiled off the hag and her skin converted to a red color. It spread up Megumi’s hand, bringing with it a pins and needles sensation.

Megumi snatched her hand away and examined the damage. She could visualize thousands of tiny insects, crawling on and biting her.

“Those are an especially tenacious breed,” Mushibaba boasted. “Within thirty seconds, they will have burrowed into your skin and sever your neuromuscular connections, causing paralysis. From there, they’ll spread to the rest of your chakra network and organs to eat you alive! Hahahaha… HAHAHAHAHA!”

“Is that so?” raised Megumi. A vicious, blue chakra ignited on her arm, it’s ferocity reducing the swarm to atoms. Mushibaba gasped in disbelief, but then chuckled knowingly.

”You think you’ve trapped me?”

With a horrendous bodily contortion, Mushibaba turned her head 180 degrees and spat a length of webbing up into the canopy to pull herself free and into the tree.

Megumi rolled her eyes and appeared beside the fleeing woman.

”Yes.” she asserted.

Mushibaba manifested her eight spider legs and leapt backwards, higher into the tree. The Celestial sighed and appeared behind the hag. She extended her hand, loading it with chakra, and assailed her with a barrage of chakra fists, the final blow sending her sailing onto a tree trunk.

“Stay still this time,” Megumi ordered as she wreathed her hands with chakra and resumed her cursed seal release. It was fairly crude and created from the blood of the beneficiary and the victim.

“You think you’ve won Celestial?” said Mushibaba, her voice growing weak from blood loss. “That there will be no consequences? Lord Jashin will be displeased, and for that you will suffer greatly.”

She tossed her head back and unhinged her jaw, a swarm of white beetles flew out of her throat.

”This mound shall be your graves,” proclaimed Mushibaba as she broke down into a mad cackling fit. The beetles took residence in Megumi’s trees throughout the entire system and began to grow many times their size.

Megumi swore and finished her cursed seal release, causing the seal on the hag’s forehead to split down the middle and melt away. With a horrible screech, Mushibaba writhed it what seemed to be agony as a hump grew on her back and swelled. Just as one would think it couldn't possibly get any larger, the hag's back tore open and Onikuma was reborn, saved from whatever curse had merged her with the spider. Megumi took a hold of Onikuma's bloodied hand and pulled, freeing the wayward Princess.

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Onikuma sobbed. With no time to waste, Megumi tightened her grip on Onikuma's hand darted towards Yūshin who had patiently waited the entire encounter to be freed.

“Onikuma!” He said. He lowered the excitement in his voice a few notches. “So you're safe after all.”

“No thanks to you.” she teased, wiping tears from her eyes and leaning heavily into her Celestial savior, apparently exhausted.

Before Yūshin could snap back, Megumi placed a hand on his binds and with a surge of chakra, disintegrated them. She took his hand as well then flew out of the accursed place towards Ikezu, who was still swatting bugs. Moments after, serial explosions rocked the mound, absolutely collapsing what was left of the monumental structure, leaving nothing but magnificent trees situated in a pile of dirt and exoskeleton carcasses. The bugs attacking Ikezu ceased their intelligent formations and fled, no longer under Mushibaba’s influence.

This whole time, Ikezu had been lost in his own world, creating games in his head as he squashed insects. As far as he was concerned, he was breaking some high score he had set in his mind - the kill-streak was immaculate.

Before he knew it, Megumi and her pets had emerged safely while the bugs dispersed. It pissed him off. He wanted to kill the rest of them.

The Akashōkami in his evil glory looked down at the three, slinking his head back and allowing himself to slowly descend to the ground. In a flash of white light, the serpentine form he had taken on would disappear, and the Ikezu they all knew would drop to the ground.

“So we’re done here?” He asked, irritation in his voice.

”Very done,” affirmed Megumi.

Nodding his head, Ikezu would turn around and open a portal, walking over to it as he exuded a… strange aura. Normally, he wore his emotions on his sleeves, and it was quite apparent what he was feeling.

But now, it was difficult to judge. In this short time, he’d changed, and seemingly matured in terms of understanding and wielding his power.

No words were exchanged, he simply stepped through the wormhole, intent on distancing himself from the trio.

“Damn,” uttered Onikuma, breaking the silence. “He didn’t even say goodb-.”

“He needs some time to reflect,” interjected Megumi. Her visual prowess could decode the young man’s emotions and intentions; something happened to him here, something that challenged everything he’s ever believed. And he was going to confront it... alone. Megumi had some thinking herself to do. The spider had revealing herself to be a Jashinist couldn't be a mere coincidence. Nor her calling Onikuma "Amanozako's Transmigrant". Who even was Amanozako? Sutoku had nothing in his memory banks about them. Just more questions that needed answers.

Act 3: A Tale of Eight Swords

A flash of fire lit up the inky darkness that enveloped the Sixth God’s back porch. As he reclined on his rocking chair, the lighter in his hand would spark up a few times, only to be blown out by the wind. Mildly annoyed, he lowered his head, placing the tip of the cigar just over the emitter for the lighter.

Gripping it with his lips, the next spark up would successfully light the cancer stick. Pocketing his lighter, Keshin leaned back in the chair, rocking back and forth while he took in the smoke. He let the nicotine hit the bottom of his lungs, taking a deep hit.

This was his one and only comfort in this forsaken world.

”Of all vices, you chose one the most obnoxious.” Hachiman walked out onto the porch and leaned against the railing, joining Keshin in listening to the nighttime sounds. “Not like I can judge. I used to be an alcoholic before a daimyō.”

He didn’t say anything, opting to ignore her rudeness. It was like this woman forgot that he was the only reason she was even alive right now.

Puffing the cigar once more, he exhaled the fragrance into the air, watching the smoke dissipate with the cold night breeze. It smelled of wine.

”Tell me Keshin,” Hachiman casually fanned away his puff of smoke. “What are you really planning?”

“You know the gist of it already.” He responded before ripping the cigar rather hard. “The inner workings of it have nothing to do with you.”

“Just know that if all goes well, you’ll be one of the last of your kind left alive.”

”Knowing the inner workings are imperative to determining whether or not it will work.”

There she went again, acting like she had a say in any of this.

“You do realize that you should be dead right now, right?” The Sixth God said, assertion in his tone. “You should know by now that I’m a realist, I’ve told you before. If it wasn’t plausible, then I wouldn’t have made it this far.”

He looked up, taking another hit and blowing smoke out as he spoke. “I wish you’d just shut up about my plans and maybe sit and be grateful for the second shot at life you have. Why would I have bothered resurrecting you if I knew you’d go right back to being a slave to a broken system?”

“You don’t think I’m stupid, do you?” A weak smile painted his face as he looked her way. “I know what I’m doing.”

”That’s why!” Hachiman replied, raising her voice. “As long as Omoikane exists, I, no, all Celestials are slaves to him and the system, whether they know it or not!” She glowered at the smoking ronin, but her expression softened and she sighed. “Until Omoikane is dead, enjoying my second shot is a matter of futility. And you’re underestimating him.”

“Underestimation is the constant factor in all of this.” He began, watching the stars glow in the deep beyond. “I’m but a man in their eyes. An absurdly overconfident man who stands up to gods in a meaningless attempt to overthrow something that’s been around longer than him.”

He chuckled as he flicked the cigar, ashes dropping onto the wooden deck below. “But that’s the beauty of it. You yourself are still brainwashed by their teachings. Even though I’ve killed you, you cling to the supremacy you were taught to embrace. You can’t fathom someone like me playing such a large part in the universe.”

“And neither can he. I’m an ant to him. If he wanted, he could light this planet ablaze whenever he chose. But he chooses not to, because he wouldn’t stoop to my level. I’m not a real threat, just a passing thought in his mind.”

He looked back at her face, his dark brown eyes reflecting the moonlight. “But it’s funny. You all had eons to hone your craft, become stronger, and sharpen your minds. But you’ve all obviously wasted that time. You’re a prime example.” Keshin withheld the urge to laugh in her face, showing restraint as he spoke. “There wasn’t an ounce of skill in anything you did.”

“Their power and haughtiness is their downfall. So don’t worry about this looming threat. For now, enjoy life. You’ve earned it.”

Hachiman huffed indignantly before marching back inside, leaving the ronin alone with his cigar and thoughts.

“Guess I’ll smoke this out first.” He said, leaning back and smiling with the cigar between his lips.

Meanwhile, Ōgyoku would approach Hachiman as she came in the door. Making sure Keshin hadn’t followed her, he wagged his tail and smiled.

“How’s master?” The dog inquired, tongue drooping out from his wide open mouth.

”Foolhardy as ever.”

The mutt simply kept smiling, looking up at Hachiman in a curious manner. “Maybe if you didn’t interrogate him about the plan all the time, he’d come off a lot more friendly. Master hates it when you ask him about that.”

“He’s a person too. You do realize that, right?”

”Of course, but so am I, right? I’m part of this plan and I don’t even know what it entails.”

“Well, I don’t think he wants you involved. Master is a strange man.” The dog walked over to the door to look at Keshin, who was asking the remains of his smoky delight.

“Master has always worked alone. Including others isn’t something he can do. Accounting for someone else is just something he isn’t fond of doing.”

Ōgyoku spun around and walked back over to Hachiman, bouncing as he did. “But he has taken a liking to you, so that’s why he keep training with you. Maybe when you’re stronger he’ll take you with him.”

”Must everyone is this shack be such bastards?!” Hachiman tossed her hands into the air and plopped herself onto the couch.

The dog just whined as Keshin came inside, one hand folded into his obi. After walking past Ōgyoku and giving him a quick pat, he made his way to the kitchen.

“You wanna stop pouting and tell me what you want for dinner?” He asked, his deep undertone reverberating through the house in a soothing manner. “Anything you want.”

”Butter, garlic, and rosemary roasted chicken with gravy and the mashed substance you make from… potatoes was it?” answered Hachiman without delay, her annoyance still evident but gradually easing up. “And a glass of the fine wine.”

He raised an eyebrow as she began to list a very specific meal. “I was thinking I’d make you a sandwich, but ok. Sure.”

Opening the refrigerator, he would take out the chicken, then slide over to the cabinet over the stove. Once he’d set everything out, he’d reach out with his right hand, and from down the hall a cloth garment made its way flying over to the rōnin.

An apron, with a large puppy’s face printed over the front, opening its mouth and tilting its large brown head.

He quickly tied it before pulling a pan out from underneath the stove. He wasn’t going to soil his garments cooking for this woman.

”Thank you Keshin,” she chimed from her seat, calling Ōgyoku to join her.

“Yeah.” Was all she got in response as he began to preheat the oven.

Ōgyoku, in all of his massive doggo glory would jump onto Hachiman to settle his head into her lap and lay his hefty body across the couch, watching Keshin in the kitchen.

Hachiman breathed deeply and looses a slow, relaxing sigh into Ōgyoku’s scruffy neck. It wasn’t her estate, but it was home now… despite her odds with Keshin and Ōgyoku’s candidness.

Waking up from his slumber, the Sixth God rubbed his eyes before looking out the window. He rolled over once more and sighed before sitting up underneath the covers.

It was around eight in the morning, knowing Hachiman, she was already up. He was glad that she never came into his room to pester him about training. He needed his sleep.

Throwing his blankets off, he would hop out of bed and grab his pants. Slipping them on over his boxers, he rubbed his bare chest as he made his way to the door. Hair hanging freely and toned body for all to see, the massive man would open the door and walk out into the living room.

“Ōgyoku…” The Sixth beckoned in his guttural morning voice. “Where the fuck are you..?”

”Good morning to you too,” quipped Hachiman who was sitting at the dining table with a mug. She had laid out a delectable spread of French toast, freshly picked fruits, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage.

Rubbing his eyes, Keshin let out a loud yawn that mirrored that of Ōgyoku’s, stretching his arms out as he did.

“Morning…” He growled, yawning lightly again before locking his gaze with hers. “How did you sleep?”

”Excellently,” Hachiman relaxed into seat and took a sip of her coffee. “Especially after such a lavish dinner.”

He chuckled, moving closer and grabbing a piece of bacon from her plate. “The least I can do after pissing you off. Ōgyoku gets uneasy when you get like that.”

Hachiman cast a withering glance to the wolf, who had taken a seat beside Keshin. “Really now?”

He nodded, tossing the bacon in his mouth and crunching it loudly before answering. “He doesn’t sleep in the bed with me after shit like that; it’s annoying.”

Ōgyoku simply smiled and wagged his tail in the chair, bouncing his head around as he watched the two exchange words.

“You’ve lived with me long enough to know what pisses me off.” The Sixth continued, walking behind her and petting the wolf pup. “So if you didn’t mind, try to avoid those things so we clash less.”

“Wouldn’t that actually mean you‘d have to “piss me off” less?” questioned Hachiman, reaching into a dish of berries.

Keshin laughed, putting a hand on the back of his broad neck and winking. “You’re lucky I let you live.” The Sixth chimed, but it wasn’t in the usual diminishing manner that he spoke.

He was joking with her, something he’d never done before.

Taken aback by the genuineness of his laughter, Hachiman couldn’t help but smile as well. “So what’s on the agenda today?”

Upon seeing Hachiman’s face brighten, Ōgyoku happily look at Keshin, then back at the woman, apparently happy they were getting along. The dog grinned in his doggy way, smiling from ear to ear.

Keshin placed his massive hands on her shoulders, looking down at her from behind his towering, brawny figure. “We train, so you don’t wind up as stupid as the rest of your clan. If you’re up to it.”

In mere moments, Hachiman consumed enough food for a more than a couple men then looked at him expectantly.

“What are you waiting for? Eat up! You’re going to need the energy.” She said with a knowing simper.

Training was her magic word. As rude as she was, Hachiman seemed to anticipate any chance she got to learn from him; it was like the highlight of her week, or so it seemed.

His happy demeanor was fleeting, however, it didn’t take long for his face to return to its usual apathetic expression.

Keshin released her shoulders and simply walked away from the table, not even bothering to gird himself with a shirt as he made his way out the door.

“Whenever you’re ready.” Her teacher said, seizing his blades from their place on the couch with his telekinesis.

Hachiman left the breakfast to Ōgyoku, who barked cheerfully before gorging himself.

“What shall it be today?” inquired the woman as she and the Sixth God strode out of the cabin and out into the open.

Distancing himself from her as she stood in place, Keshin positioned himself opposite Hachiman.

“Nothing crazy. Let’s fight.”

The wind blew the Sixth God’s hair, causing the black threads to weave themselves into the breeze. The snow had ceased for the morning, but still lay cool on the ground. Keshin, barefoot, bare-chested, faced Hachiman down for the first time since they’d clashed in the other world.

He simply wished to gauge how far his student had come, and if she had comprehended anything he’d taught her. The swordsman adjusted the newfound strap that rested over his right shoulder, which now held two of his swords in place on his back. The remaining four were still fastened to his waist. He was trying something new.

“Whenever you’re ready.” Keshin said, repeating himself once more.

Hachiman assumed a strong yet lithe Gentle Fist stance, her hands turned towards her opponent and her knees slightly bent. The cool air whispered through her white, flowing hair and ruffled her kimono as a silence built between the two, both daring the other to move.

Keshin facepalmed, shaking his head for a moment before speaking. “With your swords, dumbass. I’m sure your Gentle Fist is great. That’s not what we’re here for.”

The Sixth drew one of his six blades, taking one from his back and grasping it in his right hand. “C’mon.”

”I’m well aware,” replied Hachiman as both her hands became coated with steel. She reached into the palm of her left hand and withdrew one of her preferred katana. Her stance remained the same, left hand practicing the Gentle Fist, the other swordplay. “You’re just no fun.”

With a smirk, Hachiman dashed towards Keshin, using only her natural speed which had improved since their last battle. She raised her sword, keeping it close to her body, the wicked edge gleaming as she slashed at the man.

As soon as she channeled strength into her feet, Keshin was able to anticipate the path she would take. He readied himself, reaching out with his soul in all directions and feeling her own.

Her strike was deflected, the Sixth having reached across with his arm to deflect her swing. Not bothering to lock blades with her, he simply blocked, then using the momentum he’d gained from the turn, he spun around and repositioned himself behind her.

For now, he was just going to let her attack, parrying, watching, and waiting.

As if expecting it, Hachiman channeled chakra into her upper back and willed a katana to erupt diagonally from it, aiming directly between Keshin’s eyes.

Surprise and irritation would show in Keshin’s face as a “Tch” slipped from his lips. The wayward blade rose no farther than just above the bridge of his nose.

“Stop relying on your Kekkei Genkai.” He reprimanded, tightening his grip on the sword with his psychokinetic power. “That’s not what we’re here for. You need to learn to counter with your blade alone. That ability has just become a crutch for your shortcomings; it’s unhealthy.”

One thing he’d gathered about Hachiman was that, while she was indeed powerful, the root of her power had nothing to do with her swordsmanship. She simply chose to wield them because she could spawn them at will. Paired with her speed, it made her a force to be reckoned with, which led to her being deemed a swordswoman.

When it came to purely sword-based combat, however, she was no better than most. She was fast and strong, but had no art.

And that was why he was training her.

Hachiman spun around and took hold of the second blade, re-absorbing the steel into her being. She leapt backwards, putting some distance between them before going back in, clashing her sword with his.

Her blade hit his, the Sixth having intercepted the steel with his own. Now, he was gripping the blade is a backhanded fashion, holding the tip perpendicular to the ground at a ninety-degree angle. As soon as their blades touched, he parried her to the side in order to create an opening for himself, flicking his blade around where the blade faced the sky momentarily.

Keshin leapt back a meter or so away from her, planting his feet in the ground and holding his sword behind his back in the reverse fashion she’d have been accustomed to seeing by now.

He flipped his hair with his free hand, getting it out of his face before sighing into the frigid air.

“I won’t bite.” He commented, crouching a bit.

"Really now," sassed Hachiman as she manifested an array of swords in a semi-circle around her. "Neither will these." She scattered them all over the field, being careful to avoid Keshin. Using a blade that landed behind the man as a warp point, she instantaneously appeared behind him and thrust her katana forward.

He was dumbfounded. Absolutely amazed by how dense this multi-millennium-old being could be. He had to admit, she was fast, especially when paired with her peculiar seals. But it didn’t matter.

He received the attacked with the sword that he held in the backhanded manner, as it was already in a position to do so. But rather than simply block, he chose to whirl the blade as he turned his body to face her, working his sword up and over her own sword, then caught the hilt guard with the side of his blade. This motion slammed the tip into the snow-covered ground.

By this point, he was facing her, glaring down at her with disapproval. He raised his free hand, and in an instant, all of her scattered metal projectiles rose into the air, only to be burned by the combustible yang energy that he channeled through the yin. The blades were eaten away by the blinding red light until there was nothing left.

Keshin said nothing; his face said it all.

With a scowl, Hachiman manifested yet another blade through her left shoulder and aimed it downward against Keshin's own hilt guard, it's sudden appearance leaving little time for him to react as his sword was also nailed into the ground. She vaulted over the man, using his sword's pommel as a springboard, catapulted herself into the air and landed lightly onto the ground. She withdrew the sword jutting from her shoulder, leaving the other embedded in the ground.

"Tell me," Hachiman started as she readied her new blade. "What's so wrong with me using everything at my disposal?" She dashed forward and proceeded with a horizontal slash.

He listened to the woman’s negligent words as he flipped over her, landing where she had been standing previously as she missed her attack. He shook his head and sighed in confusion; was she really this ignorant?

“Kenjutsu is a refined art, and you’re blemishing it.” Were the words he responded with. Keshin placed a hand in his pocket as he drew another one of his swords from his back, letting it hang down at his side.

“When I found you, you held the status as the greatest Celestial to ever wield a sword. You had no peer in kenjutsu until I arrived, and I wouldn’t even consider us peers; you’ve been outmatched in every way when it comes to swordplay. And I’ll tell you why.”

“You’re far more naturally gifted than anyone on this planet. That’s what you Ōtsutsuki are. An abundance of chakra, a massive pool of techniques, and millennia of time to grow stronger and stronger by consuming fruits. You’re more than ten times older than me, yet I’m speaking to you like a child right now.”

His shoulders lowered a bit as he spoke, loosening his posture as if he had no intention of fighting her. He needed his words to hit home with her.

“How can you develop a skill if you don’t single it out and focus on that one part of your arsenal? All my life, my swords have been my first.” A look of sentiment graced his irises as his deep, dark eyes would behold the blade he carried at his side. “This is my everything. Where all my passion goes, my heart beats into these blades.”

“Having an arsenal is a good thing, but you aren’t skilled enough with your blades to even begin to consider wielding such powers. They don’t support your kenjutsu; they only propel you into close-quarters situations where you’ll easily be overcome.”

“You really haven’t changed since we fought last. The results wouldn’t have been different in the slightest.”

Out of nowhere, he then pulled a cigar from his pocket and placed it in his mouth. With a snap of his left hand, a bright pink flash emitted from the tips of his fingers, lighting the stick.

He breathed it in, before exhaling and looking into Hachiman’s Byakugan.

“Normally, I’d berate you. But you look pretty today, so I think I’ll hold off on that.” He snickered a bit as he tossed his sword back and forth between his massive hands.

“You need to develop an art; a style, and find yourself. Swordsmanship is like drawing, music, or any other passion one pursues. You have to make your mark on the blade, and those who you cut down.”

"Like the mark I made on yours?" Hachiman appeared in front of Keshin, the tip of her blade situated on his jugular artery. She had placed a seal on his sword earlier when she had touched it - if she had any intention to kill, the battle would have ended here.

"Are you really so sure the results wouldn't have changed? Even now?"

”A hundred percent.”

Keshin puffed the cigar as he pointed behind Hachiman, over to the sword he had knocked into the ground earlier. Something was different about it:

The hilt glowed an ominous black.

Upon contact, his Yin would permeate from his own sword into hers. Now, it was being used as a remote focal point for his Shogyōmujō, but only in the sense that his Yin inhabited it.

His accursed technique; Shogyōmeimō.

In the blink of an eye, the scene for Hachiman changed. Keshin was no longer standing in front of her, preaching about his ideals and philosophy. He was sitting down some meters to her left, puffing on a cigar as he had been in the illusion.

“That technique hasn’t seen the light of day in ages.” He commented, reeling in the smoke. “But it could have killed you if I wished it.”

He smiled as he slowly rose, walking over to her and rubbing his neck. What she had done was crafty, but she was still his student. No matter what he taught her, being bested at his own game was out of the question.

The towering giant winked down at the horned woman in an encouraging manner. “You’ll get there. One day.”

Keshin then patted her head, his way of reconciling with her after their brief scuffle.

Hachiman reabsorbed her held sword into her being. As for the one he channeled his genjutsu through, she snapped her fingers, just as the Sixth did, and lit it ablaze with a dark, red energy until the darkness was driven out of it. A fruit of her time spent with Keshin.

"All you did was prove my point," the swordswoman commented as she retrieved the blade, which seemed to melt into her palm. "You used an illusionary technique to avoid defeat. How is that any different from what I've done?" Hachiman folded her arms and awaited an answer.

He smiled at the wittiness of her comment. The energy never stopped with this one.

“You’re the one training, not me.” Keshin responded in a slightly more cheery tone. “I’d hardly call me dancing around and avoiding getting cut up a fight. Defeat implies we’re fighting, which is not the case.”

“But on another note, you’re partially correct.” His hand fell again onto her head, ruffling the top of her hair before withdrawing it completely and taking the cigar from his lips. “It doesn’t exactly prove anything, though. If anything, you’ve proven my point. There was nothing to be learned from that exchange because you chose to rely on everything else you’ve accumulated over the years. If I bore down on you in the same way, not only would you not learn, it’d be a pointless measurement of our power.”

“Learning isn’t about committing with everything you have in your arsenal. It’s about committing with everything you have to improve upon that one part of you that’s lacking. You have gifts I don’t, and are all around better than me in terms of natural potential.”

“But I still win, every time.” His smoke found its way back into his mouth. “Why do you think that is?”

Hachiman sighed and walked past him, sick of his smoking habit. "It's because kenjutsu is the core of your being, what makes you the "Sixth God". Your other tricks are really just that, tricks." She stopped and looked up at the cloudy sky, predicting that another snowstorm was on its way. "Whereas, I merely prefer to use swords."

”And where has that gotten you so far?”

"Far enough to come across someone better... after a few hundred years."

He gazed on her with a blank expression, void of emotion with no telltale signs as to what he was thinking. Keshin then joined her, looking at the sky.

“Because you aliens have no sense of self-awareness. You choose power over craft, which isn’t enough.”

“I think you should rethink who and what you want to be, and what it is you desire me to teach you. Merely ‘using’ a sword adds nothing to you or your abilities, because when you engage in battle with a swordsman, that blade is going to put you at a disadvantage more than anything.”

His eyes went back to her. Keshin flicked the cigar roach into the snow, having burned it out to its last little bit. The Sixth’s expression suddenly grew serious.

“You need to find yourself, Hachi.”

"Find myself? I'm Hachiman Ōtsutsuki, daimyō of..." She trailed off as realization set in. She was no longer a daimyō nor the Hachiman Ōtsutsuki she once was. This Celestial Being she presented herself as had entered a new era and was fit to be shaped into someone else entirely.

"Maybe I do." She frowned. Was this what being lost felt like?

“You’re Hachi.” He corrected, noticing she stopped short after “daimyō”. “A spunky little woman with a big mouth, who judges every little thing I say and do.”

The edges of her lips perked up ever so slighty, but she couldn't help but roll her eyes. "And she will continue to do so."

Keshin pulled out another cigar from his pocket, lighting it in the same manner he had done the previous one. In no time, he was already puffing on yet another cancer log.

He walked over to where Hachiman was standing, stopping behind her and resting his hands on her shoulders.

“Why don’t we take a break from all this.” He suggested in his low tone. “Maybe we should get away from here and let you see what this world has to offer. It might help you figure out what you want to be and where you want to go.”

“If you believe it would be beneficial, I would be willing to try.”

“I’m asking you, dumbass.”

“Fine,” said Hachiman, shaking her shoulders free from the impudent man’s touch. “Show me what this world has to offer.”

Keshin chuckled as he walked past her back towards the house. “Well, pack what you want to bring. We can leave later today.”

Hachiman packed what few possession she had, namely changes of clothes that Keshin brought her, and sat on the couch in wait. She had low expectations, but to better herself she’d do it.

Not bothering to bring anything, the Sixth God simply held the door open, smiling at the woman as she sat.


”Strange,” she said as she grabbed her backpack and stood. “I’ve never seen you excited.”

Keshin smiled as he popped her on top of her head, lightly swatting in between her horns. “I’ve never seen you act this nice before.”

He opened a small portal with his right hand and reached into it, grabbing an ornate kimono. It was black on the left side, and white in the right, with intricate flower designs whose colors matched the opposite side. After throwing it on, not bothering to tie an obi around his waist, Keshin would open a second wormhole and gesture for Hachiman to step through.

“After you, ma’am.” He said in a gentlemanly manner.

Hachiman curtsied good-naturedly and stepped into the wormhole, Keshin following behind her.

The place they emerged differed greatly from the frozen zone the two called home. The Land of Iron, while still snowy in nature, had some semblance of natural life. Unlike the pure peaks of their mountains in the Land of Frost, the valley they had emerged in was currently undergoing a battle between green and white, seeing who could dominate the landscape in all thoroughness.

Long, green grass rolled over the hills that spread out in every direction. Snow melted off its blades and glistened in the morning sun. Large trees could be seen in the distance, scattered abroad and at random. And in the horizon in every direction was the mountain range that seemed to engulf them on all sides, the only way out being up - where the bright blue sky shined bright.

Not a cloud was to be seen in the infinite folds of the atmosphere. It was beautiful.

“Welcome to samurai country.”

"How wonderful..." breathed Hachiman as she took in the sights. Of all the planets she had conquered, she never really took the time to admire them before their demise.

The enigma of a rōnin couldn’t help but smile inwardly as he looked at Hachiman’s expression as she took in the landscape and sky - a perfect combo that accentuated each other to no end. The bright, crystal clear blue mixed in with the green and whites reflected beautifully off of her Byakugan’s pale surface. He smiled the slightest smile.

She’d grown on him in the last few months she’d been with him, he had to admit.

Her long, silky white hair, porcelain skin, and of course, her eyes. Matched with her figure-eight frame and the elegant way she dressed, even Keshin couldn’t help but feel flustered.

And because of how he knew she made him think; this was why he was always so harsh with her.

But even Keshin could loosen up a bit, it wasn’t beyond the Sixth God. Unbeknownst to him, a light red blush began to spread along his face, causing him to quickly turn his head to look out at the gorgeous world around them.

“Beautiful…” He mumbled, unsure what he was referring to. Hachiman or the land?

”Where shall we go first?” she asked excitedly, having not heard him.

“Right over there.” The Sixth chimed, turning around to look in the direction opposite of where his companion was facing. In the distance, at the base of the largest mountain in the range was a massive dojo. It was quite short in terms of height, but it was rather wide. A large open area could be seen from where they stood, a type of training ground. Surrounding this was an open hall that wrapped around the arena in a rectangle. From it stemmed many more open halls that seemed to branch off into different areas of the building, almost like a maze.

Out in front of the dojo, a dozen or so samurai clad in ornate kimonos topped with various paddings. They seemed to dress differently from the standard samurai ranks that were found in the Land of Iron.

When the crowd caught a glimpse of Keshin, they all seemed to drop whatever it was that occupying them. Small talk, tending to their weapons, and all forms of daydreaming immediately left the samurai ranks as they all began to cheerily run to meet their fellow swordsman.

From over the wind, Keshin could barely make out their cries. “Roku-sama! Roku-sama is here!”

It made him grin. Being appreciated felt nice. He waved in response, heeding their calls as he slowly walked towards the group.

”Roku-sama?” inquired Hachiman as the group of Earthlings came closer.

“It’s just a title.”

In only a handful of seconds, most of the oncoming samurai had made their way over to greet the pair. It was nothing more than an excited welcoming to a being they obviously revered; something more than mere friendship.

After the initial formalities were over, before Keshin had the chance to explain who Hachiman was in order to appease the crowd’s curiosity, a rather alluring samurai would make her way over to the Sixth from the back of the crowd. She walked with an air of authority, and all the confidence in the world. Flowing dark locks with the eyes to match, and a voluptuous figure framed nicely by her tight gray kimono.

Once she’d positioned herself in front of Keshin, looking up at the beast of a rōnin from her comparatively low standing, he would do his best to look over the woman and ignore her.

He knew what was coming…

“MY LOVE!” The woman suddenly shouted, latching onto the samurai’s midriff and hugging him tight - completely offsetting the calm and collected aura she gave off only moments ago. All professionalism had went out the window.

In response to Keshin’s discomfort, a pair of samurai would drag the woman off of their guest. She resisted momentarily, before smiling widely and recomposing herself in front of him.

“Sorry! I got excited!” She said cheerily, bowing slightly. “I’m so happy you came back for me!”

The others around her groaned, shaking their heads. She, of all of them, was obviously the misfit.

“Don’t do that again.” Keshin mumbled, glaring down at the woman.

The perky samurai simply smiled up at him before spinning on her heels and running back towards the training complex.

“Wait until I tell father you’re here! He’ll be so excited.”

Hachiman stifled a laugh at the human’s obnoxious display of emotion and Keshin’s obvious discomfit.

“Shut the fuck up.” The Sixth grumbled, warning Hachiman as they followed the samurai party.

“As you wish… Roku-sama.” she teased.

He opted not to give her more ammunition, and simply rolled his eyes as the compound grew nearer and nearer. Before they knew it, the little party had made it all the way to the valley dojo.

And standing in the doorway, of course, was the woman from before, joined by an older fellow. He was bald, had a great deal of wispy, white facial hair, and a long green robe. A pair of swords were fastened to his obi, one on his right, and one on his left.

“So the Sixth returns.” The aged gentlemen said in an affirmative tone. “Welcome back, Keshin. You’ve brought a friend with you I see.”

“Roku-sama” paid his respects with a brief bow before gesturing towards his Celestial company.

“This is Hachiman; she’s a Celestial, but she’s been tamed, so to speak.”

On their way to the threshold, Hachi’s horns was a topic of chatter between the mingling samurai. All exchanging words about her possible origins and relationship to Keshin. She was a mystery to these people, and they wanted the mystery to be solved.

“Well then.” The old man said, smiling under his face-full of hair. “It’s nice to meet you, Hachiman. My name is Kento.”

"Well met." Hachiman bowed slightly to the man, sure it was also customary on this planet to do so. "I hope to learn and experience great things from you fair beings."

With a nod, the elderly man would then address Keshin. “So, why are you here?”

“I’m trying to expose her to the way people live, in a society.” The Sixth said, visibly irritated by Kento’s daughter’s staring. “She was the most powerful samurai in her domain back when she was up there, but she’s lacking in actual finesse. She isn’t refined.”

“Figured she could learn something about herself and the sword if we stayed here for a while. Assuming that’s fine.”

The bubbly woman next to the elder hopped up and down once before looking at her dad. “Of course it’s ok! Right? Right?”

Kento nodded, before turning around and heading towards one of the many entryways into the intricate manor. He motioned for his daughter to follow, who skipped behind gleefully.

“Make yourself at home. You know the layout.”

”What with that one?” whispered Hachiman, motioning towards the tittering woman. “She’s a bit insufferable.”

He sighed, looking down at Hachiman and smiling softly. “Isn’t she? She’s always been like that. Glad we’re on the same page.”

”Well let’s make ourselves busy and scarce so she has little time to bother you.” Hachiman activated her Byakugan then turned to the left. “Shall we go to the training grounds?”

As Kento and the annoying woman disappeared down one of the corridors, the Sixth shook his head. “Nah, if anything, we should probably get settled in. Explore a little bit so you get comfortable with the place. There’s a lot to see here.”

He lightly poked her nose before walking to the right, towards another hallway. “This isn’t totally about training, you know. A vacation sounds nice.”

”Okay,” she conceded, a bit disappointed. She wanted to see what these samurai of Earth could do compared to Keshin. “Lead the way.”

As the two passed through the corridor, samurai would be seen walking up and down the halls. Every time they passed the visiting pair, they’d smile, bow, then go about their daily tasks. The inner workings of this mountain sanctuary was like a well-oiled machine, in terms of its samurai components’ routines.

“This is sort of like a school.” Keshin explained as yet another samurai stopped to bow to them. “Samurai get mass-trained here and taught everything they need to know about kenjutsu, martial arts, and warfare in general. Though, in my opinion, it wouldn’t hurt for it to be more in detail.”

The halls all seemed to look the same; just plain, polished wood lining the walls, floor, and ceilings. They’d made multiple turns at this point, but still hadn’t reached their destination.

“The building is a tad bit confusing though. It was designed like this on purpose, to confound enemies and make infiltration nigh-impossible. At least from a normal point of view.”

“Impressive tactic for managing beings like themselves. But if you believe their teaching needs to be improved, what prevented you from doing so?

Keshin provided a careful answer in response. “I choose not to get involved in samurai affairs and teachings; it’s not my place. If they’re happy with the way they’ve been doing things, then that’s fine. It’s not like it’s causing a huge issue.”

“Plus, I put enough energy into you.” He added sharply, cutting a serious look her way before smiling briefly.

Hachiman sensed there was more he wasn’t sharing. Which was to be expected. However, she chose not to press him further as it didn’t seem to be something he desired to speak about in detail.

“It seems the people here are keeping an eye on us.” Hachiman noted, changing the topic. “Or rather me I suppose.”

They rounded a corner that branched off into another hallway, the wood in this area being stained a slightly lighter color. This signifies that they had entered the living quarters.

“Well, yeah.” Keshin replied. “I’m the closest thing to a real Celestial that they’ve seen. So, getting to see one, and the fact that you’re not aggressive is kind of like a treat.”

He was sure that some of the samurai had their doubts about Hachiman’s loyalties, but that was nothing but a minor detail. Those who were against her being there wouldn’t have any say-so against Kento’s word.

“It’s nothing to worry about. I’d imagine most mean well. They’re just curious.”

That was understandable considering how alien she must appear to them. Earthlings had such a variety of skin tones and other distinguishing features such as hair color. Celestial Beings would stand out like a sore thumb in comparison, and knowing of the threat the Ōtsutsuki Clan poses, she’d watch a visitor too.

“If you say so,” shrugged Hachiman, nodding at passerby as the two trekked further into the dojo.

They rounded yet another corner in the seemingly endless maze. While there didn’t seem to be any indicators of what led to where, Keshin seemed to be finding his way just fine. At least, he came across that way.

“So what do you think so far? I’m sure it’s way different from up there.”

”Well, from my viewpoint, this place is quaint and a bit cramped. Lost to tradition one might say. Or is it perhaps a mere circumstance of limited architectural achievement for people with, I assume, no form of inter-dimensional travel?” Hachiman has lived for thousands of years and seen many structural marvels in her time - this dojo has fierce completion to stack up against.