“Lord Death,” the blond man said.
Death took a moment to look around. There was all the signs of the usual markings of a death god summoning — blood on the ground, a dying woman, a man horrifically scarred and emotionally twisted beyond recognition, another man who swayed where he stood but had the light of the truly mad or truly determined in his eyes. The fragment of primordial force of nature that looked like a fox was new, though.
It was looking at him with wide red eyes. Death waved at it, bemused, and the fragment of primordial force of nature which happened to look like a fox if a fox had more than one tail flinched back.
“Lord Death,” the blond man said again, and Death turned his attention to him. “I offer you a deal. Seal the Kyuubi, and I will forfeit my soul.”
Ah, Death thought. They all wanted the same thing, and they all thought he wanted the same thing. Even across the Disc, all humans summoning primordial forces of nature with varying levels of sentience were the same.
This man’s soul was different from the ones he’d seen, though, and it made Death ask, leaning against his scythe, WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOUR SOUL IS WORTH THAT?
“I don’t,” the blond man said, and finally his voice lost that dead quality. Death would describe it as choked, except there was nothing constricting the man’s windpipe. “I don’t, but it’s all I have to bargain with that you’d be interested in.”
They all also, Death thought, made such stereotypical assumptions about death gods. Why did they all think he wanted souls? Why not cats? Cats were nice. Or curry. Did they have curry on this particular side of the Disc?
NO, Death said at last when he’d pulled himself from a deluge of spice-flavored thoughts, because the blond man was still looking at him with a dead expression and great fluctuations in emotion. There was something else going on here. Even for the most interesting thing to happen since, well, forever, Death would not have been called out here for anything less than the end or near-end of a significant figure in the local temporal and metaphysical weave. NO, I THINK THAT I WILL NOT SEAL YOUR SOUL. I’M RATHER INTERESTED IN HOW YOUR UNIVERSE WILL TURN OUT IF YOUR SOUL STAYED RIGHT WHERE IT WAS.
“What,” the blond man said.
HOW ABOUT, Death continued, sensing what human negotiators he’d spoken to had described as a moment of opportunity for a counter offer in those brief moments before they continued onwards on their journey, I SEAL ONE OF THE PRIMORDIAL FORCES OF NATURE AS YOUR UNIVERSE KNOWS IT — THE ONE BEHIND YOU, YES, THAT ONE — IN EXCHANGE FOR YOU RESTORING THE BALANCE. YOURS IS QUITE PRECARIOUS, YOU KNOW.
There was rapid blinking involved in the next moment. Not Death’s, for everyone knew that Death had no eyelids and thus could not blink, but the man’s fluttered rapidly. “What.”
Humans, Death thought tiredly, and gestured with one hand. THERE IS A SOUL HERE WHO ELUDES ME, he said. I WAS SUPPOSED TO COLLECT HIM SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE, BUT HE ALWAYS FINDS SOME LOOPHOLE. IT IS QUITE ANNOYING.
“What,” the blond man said again.
Perhaps he was in shock. Death took pity on him and said, quite bluntly, I WANT YOU TO KILL SOMEONE.
“...oh.” The blond man straightened his spine, pushed his shoulders back, and in him Death could now see the reason he’d been pulled this far Rimwards; this was a king, or at least his people’s equivalent of one. Today would not be his end, then, but his near-end. Death found that he didn’t mind the thought of coming back all the way to this edge of the Disc to collect this man at a different point in time. “I can do that. Do you have a name?”
Death gave a wink to the fox-shaped fragment of nature, who pinned back its fox-shaped ears. He really wasn’t technically allowed to go around sealing primordial forces of nature, but there was a deal involved. And this was really just bending the rules, anyway. That was permissible, under the circumstances.
UCHIHA MADARA, he told the blond man, and he lifted his scythe.
When the barrier came down, Sarutobi Hiruzen was among the first to barrel into the clearing, ANBU and Hatake Kakashi right on his heels. The ANBU almost ran into him when he skidded to a sudden stop, though Kakashi went straight for the red-haired sprawl on the ground, hands already reaching into his pack.
“Minato,” Hiruzen said, and stopped.
His successor waved at him from where he was seated cross-legged in the middle of the clearing. He was holding a blond haired infant in his arms. The Kyuubi was nowhere to be seen. The sealing had succeeded, then; but sealing the Kyuubi always required a sacrifice. Keeping it sealed would have been well within Minato’s skills.
Sealing it entirely after it had already been released would have rendered him or Kushina dead; but the man himself was breathing, and so was Kushina, though judging from Kakashi’s concerned hovering and the tense silence from the ANBU medic who was kneeling over her, she’d need the hospital soon.
“All clear,” Minato replied. He was smiling grimly as Hiruzen approached, nodding in acknowledgement to the ANBU spreading out to cover them. Two stayed at his back, shoulders tense, which he ignored. “The Kyuubi’s been sealed. Status report?”
It was pitched like a question, likely in deference to the armor Hiruzen hadn’t strapped on since his retirement and the blood and ash that now covered it, but this was still the man he’d groomed into his successor and put on the Hokage’s seat. Hiruzen mentally reprioritized. “We’ve taken significant casualties. A good portion of Konoha has been leveled, still more damaged from flying debris and as collateral; we won’t be getting an accurate damage report for at least a few more hours. The hospital is still standing, and so is the Hokage Palace.”
“We’ll regroup there, then.” Minato moved gingerly into a crouch before he stood, going much too slowly for how fluidly he usually moved, let alone a shinobi of his caliber. The chakra of the ANBU behind him — one of whom was the Palace Guard medic, Hiruzen noted with approval — flickered, evidence of their concern though they didn’t speak. “Crane, you can stop hovering, I’m fine.”
“Yondaime-sama,” Crane said flatly, which was proof enough of the medic’s opinion. Boar shifted on his feet, caught between supporting his lieutenant or submitting to Minato’s silent request to leave him to fend for himself medically until they’d pulled through this disaster.
Hiruzen took pity on the two of them and coughed lightly to get Minato’s attention. “I believe Carp is ready to take Kushina-kun to the hospital. Will you go with them?”
Minato breathed through his nose, which on a shinobi of his caliber was the equivalent of anguished screaming. Hiruzen could follow his thought process, because it was one which he’d had to follow through on himself when he’d been the one with the hat: did he go with his wife to the hospital after what was undoubtedly a traumatic dissection of the jinchuuriki seal? Or did he head straight for the Palace, and let them see that the Kyuubi hadn’t killed him?
“I’ll Hiraishin them to the hospital,” Minato said — it always surprised Hiruzen, just how quickly Minato’s mind ran — “and let the hospital staff see that I’m walking, before I head to the Palace.”
Hiruzen nodded and stood aside to let Minato pass, falling in at his successor’s side; Crane and Boar shadowed them both. Throughout it all, Hiruzen was interested to note, Minato’s child did not wake from their father’s arms.
“You never said,” Hiruzen murmured, before they reached where Kushina was now awake and complaining loudly at a long-suffering Kakashi and Carp both. “Is it a boy or a girl?”
Minato looked at him then, and the sun was in his smile when he said, “Kushina and I have a son.”